“Bells of Christmas” Cover

Bells of Christmas Medley Cover 300dpiWhen I was a young girl, I LOVED Karen Carpenter’s music. LOVED. IT. When I found out she sang her own harmonies and backgrounds, a dream was born.

I wanted to do that.

Fast forward decades. My very first “single” is now available and every vocal harmony and background on it is mine. (Click HERE or click the cover art image to download it or listen to a clip.)

Why did I wait so long to release a recording? One big reason is that I knew how much it would cost and I just couldn’t justify spending the money when I knew I’d never recover the expense:

The studio time was free, but
Leasing the track for recording cost $140.
Mixing/mastering cost $50 (EXTREME discount)
Licensing and royalties were $42.
The distribution service was $15
(to get it on itunes, Google Play, Amazon, streaming services, etc.)

So why now? Why this song? Not because I had an extra $247 to burn, that’s for sure. I’ve been recording covers for nearly 5 years now and this is the first one that wasn’t actually a full out cover of a song by a popular artist. In the back of my mind, my thought has probably always been something like this:

Given a choice between listening to an original artist’s version of a song and my version, why would anyone listen to a copy when they could listen to the “real thing?”

But this song isn’t a copy of an original. It’s a Christmas medley that a music track making company created in 2009. The artist on the demonstration track is an unnamed studio vocalist that nobody will compare me to. It starts out slow and soft with I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, then transitions to Ring the Bells and build to one of my favorites, Carol of the Bells. It’s packed with harmony and overlaps. It was challenging to record, but it was flat out FUN at the same time.

Will I release another single in the future?

Probably at lease one more. A few years ago, I paid the $140 to lease a track for “How He Loves” (also affectionately known in my family as “the sloppy wet kiss” song) but never found someone to mix and master my recording. Having already paid for the track lease, it wouldn’t take too much more money to get it mixed, mastered and distributed.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep recording, singing my own harmonies. Just like Karen Carpenter did.

#GoodNews – the Christian faith isn’t about being “good.”

JSMGospelMeansGoodNewsThe Christian faith isn’t about being “good” and trying not to do anything “wrong.” ‪

#‎Jesus‬ wasn’t just a good man Christians should strive to emulate.

If I believe the eye witnesses, He was God himself, in the flesh. He came to restore my relationship with Him – a relationship severed by my rejection and indifference.

I suffer when I am separated from God. Without Jesus, that separation would be eternal.

Any parent will tell you they wish they could take their child’s place when the child suffers.

If you believe what Jesus said, that’s what God did. ‪#‎ibelieve‬ ‪#‎GospelMeansGoodNews‬

a lesson in humility. and a reminder.

Dr. Doofenshmirtz might call the first part of this post my “backstory.”

~ I’m a firstborn and an ISTP (67%) / ISTJ (33%) who’s worked with IT personnel (mostly guys) for decades. My instinctive approach is always content over context. Logic over feelings. I’d say that about 90% of the time, I have a male gender communication style; Report talk over rapport talk. I read instruction books and follow procedures – unless of course, the reasoning behind the procedures isn’t logical, which stems from my content over context approach.

~ Pragmatic is my favorite word. The definition that most resonates with me is:

“focused on needs and results, rather than with ideas or theories”

~ I’m a trainer. I’m always learning and I sincerely believe I can learn from everyone, whether I benchmark successes or analyze failures – including my own. As an educator, I have the opportunity and responsibility to share what I’ve learned. Theoretically, the people with whom I share will make more informed decisions, increase efficiency and generally be better as a result of the knowing.

~ As a consultant, I’ve become accustomed to collaborative work groups made up of people who are task oriented and focused on problem solving.

~ Since 1994, I’ve trained and consulted for and with clients ranging from corporation presidents to managing partners to firm administrators to executive support staff to entry level support staff to volunteers. I interact with all of my clients showing the same level of respect, regardless of the formal or informal hierarchical structure of an organization.

That’s my backstory in a nutshell.

So, given all that is me, I found myself in unfamiliar territory when someone recently told me that I had overstepped a boundary.

A little over a year ago, I was working an event and just before the program officially began, this particular person gave some opening instructions. A particular part of the instructions was incorrect.

My thought process was:
1. 300+ people were just given incorrect instructions about the event.
2. The event hasn’t started yet.

So, the firstborn, ISTP/J, problem-solving educator in me gave this person the correct information.
The instructions were restated accurately.
The program began.

But I had overstepped a boundary. And for over a year, I had no idea.

Now that this had been shared with me, I could have gotten swept up into a circular debate about whether the 300+ people needed or deserved to know the correct information before the event began. But I firmly believe the Holy Spirit stopped me from that pointless and selfish attempt to be “right” and redirected my attention to the more important issue, past the factual actions which took place and instead to the person who identified a boundary where I did not.

If God was telling me that the boundary had nothing to do with the accuracy or inaccuracy of information shared, what was the implication of my crossing it?

This person felt disrespected by me. It’s possible I embarrassed them.

It was a humble reminder that my education and experience don’t automatically translate to success in my personal interactions. I’ve got a degree in Organizational Communication. I’ve taught and coached communication theory and its application for decades. I had been involved with this organization for over a decade. I was experienced and familiar with its culture and hierarchy of authority. Yet it didn’t even occur to me that correcting this person might be at odds with the norm. Looking back now, through their perspective, within the context of the organizational culture, I can see it clearly.

hindsight.

Pride and HumilityI’ve been in identical and similar events, in other venues, with different groups of people – in different cultural contexts – and the kind of interaction I’ve described has never been a big deal, even in cases when the person corrected has been upper level management or an owner of a company. In my own personal experience, the person corrected – myself included – has casually tossed back a kind of “thanks for having my back” response and has continued without skipping a beat.

“In my own personal experience…”

That’s what makes communication so difficult. It’s not one-size-fits all.

Although I was familiar with both the culture of this particular organization and the expectation of this particular individual, I drifted into my communication comfort zone. I assumed the situation was similar to the others in which I navigate.

From that assumption, came the perceived disrespect.

And the humbling reminder to actually USE my communication skills.

UPDATE: Someone asked in a comment what I SHOULD have done instead. Here’s my answer:

The person who told me I had crossed a boundary actually specifically stated what they would have preferred:
(1) to be told the correct information after the event,
(2) in private,
(3) and to be told by the person who organized the event (not me) so that,
(4) in future events, they would relay the information to the attendees correctly.

I acted instinctively, not intentionally. Although it goes against all that is pragmatic in me, I could have – should have – allowed the incorrect information to go uncorrected. It would have resulted in decreased participation in the event, which would have disappointed a number of people who had expected to be able to participate and it would have made the event less memorable. Not a tragedy, just not an optimal experience for those of the 300+ who were able to actively engaged because they had been given accurate instructions.

All that said, in full disclosure, just one month after this conversation, my husband and I attended a large meeting at another venue and while the organization’s founder and president was addressing the audience, he misstated some information. Immediately, he was interrupted from the back of the room and corrected. His response was “Thank you for that correction.” And I leaned over to FirstHusband and whispered, “And THAT’S how it’s done.”

Christmas Bell Medley (unmixed cover by Julie Stiles Mills)

UPDATE: I had this recording mixed and mastered and the final version is available for download HERE

I hesitate to put these unmixed recordings up because every vocal you hear is mine and I hear every. single. problem. BUT I’m letting go of my ego at the moment. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Recorded November 30, 2015
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day…Ring the Bells…Carol of the Bells”

Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

“Are you saying Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses agree about who Jesus actually is?”

I only opened the door because I thought it was a delivery. I’ve been doing a bunch of online Christmas shopping.

There was no smiling Amazon box on my porch.

It was a smiling guy wearing a tie, holding a zippered book and what appeared to be a Bible tucked in his armpit.

Thought Bubble: “AAACCK! Julie! What have you done!?”

After his jovial icebreaker comment about how the vine on my porch reminded him of the grape vines he used to swing on when he was a kid, he abruptly launched right into his spiel with a question about politics and the end of the world that I literally couldn’t make ANY sense of, much less answer.

“Have you ever wondered about whether the world blahblahnonsensicalblahblah.”

Thought Bubble: “um, I can honestly say no. Because I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.”

I told him I was sorry but that I only discussed politics with close friends and he said, “Me too! We have something in common!”

Thought Bubble: “ummmm. no. I don’t think so. I’ve never met you before. You are standing on my porch, not sitting in my living room. We are not close friends. We’re not even acquaintances. and you just asked me a question about politics.

Then he asked me something as equally nonsensical as his opening question, which he seemed believe was a natural conversational bridge from politics to God and once again, I couldn’t make sense of what he was trying to say. In all honesty, it’s very possible I didn’t care enough to put any effort into deciphering the question.

Thought Bubble: “Jehovah’s Witness.”

He was looking at me expectantly.

I was completely frank: “I’m not really sure what you’re asking…This is a Christ-centered home.”

He said: “We have something else in common!”

Thought Bubble: “I know he knows that’s not true.”
Quick Prayer: “Lord, do I go there or not? Please help me follow your lead.”
and Memo to Me: It would appear that Jehovah’s Witness canvassers are trained to find and call to attention something they have in common with their targets – even if they have to invent the commonality.

JW: “Let me give you a tract that addresses politics from that standpoint.”

Thought Bubble: “? huh? What standpoint?”

He unzips what turns out to be an actual book FULL of tracts, all organized in plastic sleeves. Flipping through, he pulls one out, opens it up and points to a quote referenced as Daniel 2:44

“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. And this kingdom will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it alone will stand forever. (emphasis his)

As he slowly read the verse out loud, he followed along the text with his finger and I remember him being completely oblivious to the fact that I was actually looking at his face and not the tract, thinking, “I wonder if he’s been trained to do that. I can’t be the only person who finds it condescending.”

Quick Prayer: “Okay Lord. I REALLY need you to tell me what to say. NOW.”

I took the tract out of his hand, turned it over, looked at the bottom.

My tone of voice was neutral: “You’ve misrepresented yourself.”

He looks surprised. Confused. Hurt. Acting is not his forte.

JW: “I didn’t misrepresent myself! How did I misrepresent myself?!”

Me: “There’s a significant difference between Jehovah’s Witness and Christianity.”

JW: “There are lots of differences between Christian religions! For instance, Baptist’s believe…”

Me, softly interrupting: “I’m not referring to doctrine.”

Silence. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t have an immediate response.

Quick Prayer: “okay God. Now What?”

JW: “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Dont Have to Attend Every ArgumentImmediately, the thought popped into my head: “Don’t explain. It’s a trap.”

Me: “I’m having trouble believing you don’t know what I’m talking about. You must have engaged in conversations about the difference before.”

I’m not sure exactly what he said next. But I remember thinking “Tangent. Distraction. Non-essential doctrinal difference.”

Me: “I’m sorry, I’m really not interested in debating non-essential doctrine. There’s a single significant difference between Jehovah’s Witness and Christianity.”

I continued, looking at him quizzically: “I’m finding it difficult to believe you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

JW: “What’s the difference between Jehovah’s Witness and Christianity?”

I looked him straight in the eye and slowly shook my head:We don’t agree about who Jesus actually is.” (click the link to see a 2 minute explanation of what JW believe)

Another brief moment of silence.

A woman, obviously his canvasing partner, who had been walking up my driveway, stepped close enough to him so that he noticed her presence and realized he was being observed.

JW: “Well, who do you believe Jesus is?”

Again, I thought: “Don’t explain. and only focus on this one issue.”

Me: “I’m having a difficult time believing you don’t already know who I believe Jesus is. You must have had conversations with Christians about this before.”

another pause.

Me: Are you saying Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses agree about who Jesus actually is?

JW: “well…no….But…”

Thought Bubble: “I KNEW he knew what I was talking about.

and I LOVE the Socratic method. loveitloveitloveit.”

Me: “I’m not going to try and convince you to believe what I believe about who Jesus is. But I do believe you misrepresented yourself. Jehovah’s Witness is not a Christian religion.

JW: “But…”

Me: “I respect your beliefs. Please respect mine.”

He thanked me for my time and I respected his beliefs again by not wishing him a Happy Thanksgiving.

As I think about it now, I realize why they were canvasing on a Tuesday morning. They know it’s likely there are a lot of people who’ve taken the week of Thanksgiving off.

Smart.

the words calculated and predatory also come to mind. but still. very smart.

and I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn’t known before.

Library WallIt was Sunday afternoon. I was in “my” room. The living room. Looking out the window that spans nearly an entire wall, hypnotically watching a baby squirrel chowing down on the suet in the birdfeeder. I call it “my” room because it’s lined with a 12 foot wide by 7 foot high wall of 12×12 cubby shelves filled with books about God. Theology. Spiritual Growth. Prayer. Suffering. blah. blah. blah.

84 square feet. My own personal little library. That’s a lot of books. A lot of words. I’ve learned a lot from those books. With endless more still to learn.

My husband was chilling out in the adjacent room. Even though we’re visually separated by the wall of books, we never have to raise our voice to hear each other.

The clock ticks.

Me, softly: “I miss the old me.”

FirstHusband: “What do you mean?”

Me: “You don’t notice a difference?”

silence.

He knows what I’m talking about.

The clock ticks.

Me: “I miss optimism.”

silence. He’s not ignoring me. He’s waiting. He knows me. I’m not done talking. I’m not done thinking.

(I know, I know. I’m NEVER done thinking.)

The clock ticks.

Me: “I hate that the gate is so narrow.”I hate that the gate is so narrow Matthew 7 13-14 JSM Quotes

FirstHusband: “I know.”

A few years ago, when I experienced the deafening silence and pitch black darkness and seeming cavernous distance from all that I had come to recognize and understand and depend on as the presence of God, I couldn’t understand why He was allowing such intense pain. I wondered then if the separation was temporary or permanent. If it was temporary, I wondered if the other side would prove to be a pruning that led to a more fruitful bounce back to what I had come to know as “normal” or if this season was a “refined by fire” step leading to an altogether new and different relationship with God.

I’m still not sure.

I’m not sure I’m completely done with that season, so it very well may be that it’s premature to be contemplating the “lessons learned” of it all.

Romans 9 2-3One thing I understand better than I did before is when Paul wrote these words:

“that I have great sorrow and
unceasing anguish in my heart.
For I could wish
that I myself were accursed
and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my brothers,
my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Romans 9: 2-3 ESV

Paul is saying, “I genuinely grieve for those who don’t know Christ. I would give up eternity with Him, if it meant that they could know Him.”

And just to be clear, me saying I understand Paul better, does NOT mean I share his sentiments about sacrificing my relationship with God so that somebody else could know Him.

I know me. I’m much. much. too selfish for that.

The pain I experienced during my recent separation from Him here on earth is more than enough to tell me that eternal separation would be…

unbearable doesn’t begin to describe it.

But I do understand what Paul is saying.

And the raw truth of it is suppressing optimism. It’s sabotaging Hope.

Not that I don’t know Satan will be defeated in the end, because I know he will. It’s just that the evidence that the earth is Satan’s domain seems to be everywhere I look.

I can’t not see it.

Back in December of 2013, I wrote about asking God to “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Here’s an excerpt from that post:

“The next morning, I woke up…brokenhearted. Seriously. It’s the only word that fits. I was literally grieving over how many people HATE God. or even the idea of Him.

Immeasurable grace. Unconditional love the likes of which I will never fully comprehend.

and so often – much too often – the response is arrogant and caustic rejection. vehement acrimonious derision. revulsion. hate.

and then there’s indifference.

God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can experience abundant life in Him.

and so many people respond with “meh.” So many people don’t respond at all.

I’m brokenhearted. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.

this is new. and not from me. On my own, I’m incapable of this kind of intuitive compassion.

Some read those words and thought I was being arrogant. condescending. sanctimonious. I can’t stop them from thinking that. Haters gonna hate.

Some might read them and think I’m an emotionally driven drama queen. Those people obviously don’t know me very well.

The fact is, it’s much easier to live with the knowledge that so many people hate God when you only process the information intellectually. It’s their choice. And the choice has consequences: current and eternal separation from the God who loves them unconditionally. End of story.

But when you genuinely care about someone, and you know they’ve mistaken religion for a restored relationship with God through Jesus, you grieve for their loss.

God uses our deepes pain launching pad greatest callingI grieve for their loss.

condescending?

Again. I can’t stop people from thinking that.

I believe that God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can be restored to uninhibited relationship with Him and experience abundant life through Christ, not only for eternity but also now – here on earth. And so. many. people say He doesn’t even exist. So. many people blame Him for Satan’s handiwork. They want Him to intervene and stop “bad” people from hurting “good” people, not thinking through the implications that would have in their own lives if God intervened and stopped them from ever doing anything rebellious.

My acute awareness of how many people live separated from God brings with it the broken heart I prayed for. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.

And I can’t not see it. I can’t not know it.

And so I find myself wrestling with the paradox of personally experiencing the joy of abundant life in Christ and grieving because so many people seem to hate God. And anyone who loves Him.

I wouldn’t change the seeing. or the knowing. It’s good to know.

And a little bit not…

say what you mean. don’t be mean when you say it.

facebook I dont want to see thisI cut waaay back on facebook over the last few months. Derisive sarcasm and hate were saturating my news feed, weighing and wearing me down.

As I tentatively become more active again, one of my new facebook practices is to select “I don’t want to see this” whenever I read a post declaring that something somebody said or wrote or tweeted “destroyed” something another person said, wrote or stood for. (or similar language)

These kind of smack-down statements are usually only true if you completely ignore or rule out every other aspect of a complex issue other than the one the destroyer targets.

“Destroyed” (and words like it) is the kind of inflammatory language that triggers pointless, unresolvable bickering. It doesn’t invite or facilitate open dialog. Rather, it takes the potential for conversation that might lead divisive people to discover common ground and crops it to a trite soundbite that ends in a period or an exclamation point, or worse yet – “BAM!”

If divisive issues were truly simple, there wouldn’t be so much controversy over them. #edify

“It is the mark of an educated mind
to be able to entertain a thought
without accepting it.” Aristotle

edify
Ephesians 4 29 Bible

#edify: profanity

fiddlesticksThe first curse word each of my children heard came out of my mother’s mouth. Let’s just say it wasn’t one of the curse words you might find in the Bible.

She wasn’t angry. or frustrated. or hurt in any way. She wasn’t speaking passionately about anything of significance. It was just a passing thoughtless comment. I’ve said in a previous post that

“I grew up with a mom who used “colorful” language. nautical colors.

It’s not like I’ve never used colorful language myself. I freely admit that I sometimes cuss in my head. Sometimes it leaks out of my mouth or my fingertips, like in THIS post, from back in 2013. My language has not been – and probably will not be – consummately color-free. Even so, I can honestly say that in my immediate family, profanity isn’t something we regularly weave into our lives.

Of all the places we go, we hear curse words at Walt Disney World the most.

Casual replacement of the word “stuff” with the word “sh!+”
Telling children to “get their “a$$” over here!” or that they’re “going get they’re “a$$ busted!”
Calling a woman a “b!tch” – sometimes in front of her own children. or her parents.
And then there’s “shut the F#¢« up” and
the tired overuse of “F#¢«ing” as an adjective.

While this language is commonplace for some, it’s startling to us. There’s an inward flinch. Our outward response is almost always silence. Because we’re articulate like that. Meanwhile, the silence feels awkward.

word Im searching for I cant sayHere’s what I’ve observed:

If profanity is a normal part of your vocabulary, and you use it with someone who doesn’t, it doesn’t facilitate camaraderie, it creates distance.

Sometimes it leaves a lasting impression.

If you’ve decided that including profanity in your everyday vocabulary and conversations is no big deal, I’m going to pass along some unsolicited advice:

A good rule of thumb is not to use profanity with anyone until and unless they use it with you first.

And NEVER use profanity with children. Just don’t. Sure, it’s possible they’ve grown up saturated in it and are desensitized to it. But it’s also possible that profanity hasn’t been a part of their everyday life and using it with those kids doesn’t make them feel more comfortable with you. It makes them UNcomfortable. If they respect your authority as an adult, they won’t tell you they are uncomfortable.

Consider this possibility:
From a kid’s point of view, you, an adult, have perceived power/authority over them.
When you cuss, they feel that telling you it makes them uncomfortable is the same as telling you that you’re wrong.
They might believe that telling you that you’re wrong would be disrespectful.
Distance has been created. They are intimidated by you.
Intentionally or unintentionally – that intimidation is an abuse of power over kids.

Years ago, I told my kids my view of profanity: It’s often used to emphasize something, but in reality, one of things it most emphasizes is a lack of vocabulary and creativity. Using profanity, besides being unprofessional, is just plain lazy. There are so. many. words. available for use.

So, if you’re looking for some creative alternatives to colorful language, I offer these for your consideration: