Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Todd Family Christmas

I'm a not-very-good photographer with a not-very-good camera. Why bother when you've got a daughter-in-law who's a great photographer with a great camera? (And who lets me snag her pictures! Thanks, Dara.)



Here's me snuggling Rorin.

Keegan & Allistar got sleds from Aunty Mindy & Uncle Kevin. Of course we had to go sledding!  The "Dump Hill" was nostalgic for Nate and Mindy.

Ice candles turned out pretty good for our first try. Can you make these where YOU live?

Here's the whole gang! First time together for Christmas since 2008... and we have two new little people since then!

And the whole gang squished into the staircase. Not sure whether Keegan is sneezing or sleeping.

The reason for it all: Happy Birthday, Jesus.
Hubby gave me a juice extractor! YAY! I can retire the borrowed 1980 version.


Rorin's gift from us.
We are feeling so blessed to have had a lot of family time this Christmas season and have much to be grateful for. I wish you and yours the Lord's richest blessings in 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Thrill of Hope in a Hurting World



Raise your hand if you can name the first song ever sent over the air via radio waves.

Here’s a hint: it happened Christmas Eve 1906. Reginald Fessenden picked up his violin and played its melody after reading the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. Radio operators aboard ships must have been shocked, for neither the human voice nor music had ever been transmitted this way.

Need another clue? The song’s lyrics were originally written in 1847 by a French poet named Placide Cappeau (who, incidentally, had his right hand amputated following a shooting accident at the age of eight).

Adolphe Charles Adams composed the melody. To Adams, a man of Jewish descent, the poem represented a day he didn’t celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. But he wrote the music anyway, at his friend’s request, and at first the song was embraced by the Catholic church.

But then the original poet, Cappeau, left the church to join the Socialist movement and the church learned the composer was a Jew. They banned the song, declaring it unfit.

About ten years later, American abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight was so moved by the words of the third verse, he translated the entire song into English and published it in his magazine. If you know your Civil War history, you can see why it quickly caught on in the northern United States during that time:

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

And if you hadn’t already guessed, now you know. “O Holy Night,” originally called “Cantique de Noel,” has remained one of the most loved and most recorded Christmas carols.

Have you seen the new Lincoln movie yet? Abraham Lincoln remains a hero to many for taking the lead in abolishing slavery in America, but I can’t help thinking Lincoln would weep if he knew it has not been abolished at all. Oppression has not ceased. According to numerous reports, there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history. Human trafficking runs rampant. 

This is probably not what you wanted to read in my Christmas column. The good news is, we can make a difference and we don’t have to fight this battle alone. Numerous organizations work hard to expose and abolish human trafficking. By buying fair trade, learning more about modern slavery, spreading the word, and joining a movement such as Free the Slaves, International Justice Mission, or ServantsAnonymous (among others), you as an individual can help.

Isaiah 58, verse 6 says this: “I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused!”

DefendDignity leads a campaign to end modern day sex slavery and defend the dignity of every woman right here in Canada. I’m happy to say my church and its denomination (the Christian and Missionary Alliance) are partners of Defend Dignity. Watch for details of an important event coming to Portage at the end of January.

And finally, an invitation. I hope you attend your church’s Christmas services. But if you do not have a church home, please join me and my family at mine, PortageAlliance Church, on Christmas Eve at 7:00 pm. But come early – the place packs out! Spend an hour singing carols by candlelight. You may return home with renewed perspective on the hope that is ours because of Christmas. May it truly be for you, a Holy Night.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Our Finest Gifts We Bring



You may not have heard of Katherine Kennicott Davies, but she wrote what I used to consider the dumbest Christmas carol of all time. “The Little Drummer Boy” (originally titled “The Carol of the Drum”), which the American woman wrote in 1941, became famous when recorded by the Trapp Family Singers of Sound of Music fame.

My opinion of this song was formed between the ages of 13 and 18, when I still knew everything. I knew the Bible records no drummer boy at the Bethlehem stable, not in any of the four gospels. That whole “ox and lamb kept time” thing? Please. And a newborn baby smiling at him? Probably just gas. Never mind that a newborn can’t focus his eyes that well. And whoever heard of lulling a baby to sleep by beating on a drum anyway? As a young mother, I’d have appreciated the gift about as much as I’d appreciate bedbugs. 

Furthermore, I always thought the song annoying to sing, what with the obnoxious rumpa pum pums interrupting its storyline.

That is what I used to think.

I finally got it one Christmas in my late thirties when, as usual, I was involved with the annual Christmas banquet at Portage Alliance Church. The drama team was staging a short play I had written and the music team would perform several songs, including The Little Drummer Boy

Our drummer that year, long past being a boy, would play a solo part. As I watched him beating his heart into the piece, I finally clued in to what the song was all about. The drummer boy had nothing else to give.

Neither did I. No gold. Certainly no frankincense or myrrh, even if I knew what those were. I couldn’t play a drum, either.

But I could write a play.

All of a sudden, the lyrics changed a bit for me. “I write my plays for him, pa rum pum pum pum. I write my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum…”  

And finally, the clincher: “Then he smiled at me.” Not as an infant from a manger bed, but as my risen Lord. Smiling. At me and my little play.

The song has been one of my favorites ever since.

Last year, Winnipeg musician Sean Quigley won praise for his video, posted to YouTube, featuring a fantastic rendition of The Little Drummer Boy. Quigley’s video, shot at familiar Winnipeg locations, took full advantage of heavy snow. I find it mind-boggling that Quigley played all the instruments, sang the vocals, recorded everything and shot, directed and edited the video himself.

At only 16, Sean Quigley grasped what I had missed.

“Drummer Boy speaks to me so much,” he told media. “The whole song is a story. It’s about this boy who gets word of Jesus being born and he goes to see him and he doesn’t have anything to give him; he’s like ‘I don’t have money, I don’t have gifts to give you. But I can play my drum and that’s more than enough’.”

If you haven’t seen Quigley’s video, I encourage you to watch it soon, here. Watch the joy on his face. 

What is your drum? How will you make a gift of it this Christmas?





Thursday, December 6, 2012

Over My Dead Body


Have you thought much about what might happen to your life’s work after you’re gone? You might after you read this story.

As my Christmas gift to readers this year, I’ve decided to do something different. Rather than a continuing fictional tale, each week will bring you a stand-alone true story about the history behind some of our favourite Christmas carols.

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing has become one of my favourites. Maybe it’s because of the wonderful way the Peanuts gang sing it at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Maybe it’s because the song contains the entire gospel of Christ within its verses (basically, God and sinners reconciled).

In any case, until I did a little research, I had no idea that neither the writer of the words nor the writer of the music would have wanted the two joined. Did you?

In 1739, Charles Wesley penned the lyrics with the request that only slow, solemn religious music be coupled with his words. It was sung to a different, probably depressing, melody that is no doubt long forgotten.

A hundred years later, Felix Mendelssohn, a Jew, wrote the joyful melody now so familiar to us, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Gutenberg printing press. It was called “Fest­ge­sang an die K√ľnstler” and he made it clear he wanted his music used only for secular purposes.

Long after both Mendelssohn and Wesley were dead, an English organist named Dr. William Cummings joined the joyous music to the profound words. Almost two hundred years later, you and I still sing along to this beloved carol. We would remain unfamiliar with both music and lyrics if someone had not come along and joined the two.

Do the original writers roll over in their proverbial graves every time this carol is sung? I sure hope not. I hope they look on from above with glad hearts, both now understanding the depth and beauty of their contribution to the world. 

And I hope the rest of us can learn to hold loosely to those things we “create.” Firstly, because most things improve with a little collaboration. Secondly, because after we’re gone we have little say about the things we leave behind. And thirdly, every shred of creativity we possess is only a gift from the One who first created us.

I hope you enjoy the carol more now that you know the story. For fun, try reading it through as simple prose, without the tune ringing in your head if you can:

Hark, the herald angels sing, “glory to the newborn king! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” Joyful, all ye nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies! With the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time, behold him come. Offspring of a virgin's womb! Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth! Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Saxophone? I Can Barely Use a Telephone!



Well, it’s official. I am out of my mind.

I have taken up the saxophone.

My now-famous doctor of naturopathic medicine thought I should take up swimming to strengthen my lungs. “Frank Sinatra was a swimmer,” she said.

Sinatra swam underwater to develop his lung capacity — which enabled him to continue a musical phrase through a stanza without pausing for breath.

“I’ve always been more of an artist than an athlete,” I argued. “Couldn’t I try something else, like, oh, I don’t know, saxophone?”

Immediately, Dr. Lisa saw no reason I couldn’t do both. That girl thinks I have 26 hours in my day.

I procrastinated for weeks. For one thing, saxophones don’t come cheap. For another, I’d be lying if I said I’ve always wanted to play one.

Finally, I put out a tentative query on Facebook: “Anybody know where I can find a bargain on a used saxophone? Quality not important. It will be played by a 53-year old beginner with weak lungs.”

My odds were pretty slim, right? I felt safe.

An answer came shortly from the most unbelievable source. My own son-in-law had an alto sax collecting dust in his storage space. Who knew Kevin played in his school band for a year in Grade 5? His wife would be happy to let me use it.

What had I gotten myself into? What if I hated it? What if I couldn’t even get a squeak out of the silly thing? Did I really need one more thing to do?

Lucky for me, it was several weeks before we collected the instrument from their home in Calgary. Kevin gave me a quick lesson while my daughter chuckled and chortled. The next day we travelled home with the shiny Yamaha in its velvety-lined case. All I needed was a pair of shades and a hat and I was set.

I put out a new query on Facebook: “Anybody know a local, affordable saxophone instructor willing to take on a 53-year old beginner with weak lungs and a low frustration threshold?” I figured my odds were pretty much one in a million.

But within half an hour, my first lesson was booked with a guy who is proving himself the best music teacher ever. I’m not making this up. Ritchard Wiebe is a wonderful saxophone player, a patient teacher, and a generous encourager.

More importantly, he and his lovely bride Liz both laugh at my jokes.

(On a side note, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, every person I know born with the name “Wiebe” arrived on the planet with music seeping out of their pores. Have you noticed?)

So I’ve been blowing my horn half an hour a day for six weeks now, convinced God will eventually reward my longsuffering husband. As for the neighbours? It’s a good thing I’m starting in winter when all the windows stay closed.

Having taken piano lessons as a kid, I can tell you a saxophone is completely illogical. On a piano, the notes appear in nice, neat order. When you hit a key, it will always play the same note no matter what you do with your lips, your cheeks, your tongue, or your eyebrows. 

Not so with a sax. The notes don’t follow any predictable pattern. Alternative, convoluted methods to play many of them must be learned. And just because you’ve placed your fingers on the correct buttons doesn’t mean the note will come out right. 

So maybe I won’t be the next Lisa Simpson. But guess what? I’m having fun! I can play Jingle Bells, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, and Good King Wenceslas, all at the same volume: LOUD. Why no one has booked me for their Christmas party is mystifying.

This whole scenario of finding both a sax and a great teacher is something we in Christian circles like to call “a God thing.”

You can call it what you want. Just don’t accuse me of tooting my own horn. Technically, it still belongs to Kevin.