Pragmatic Compendium

inspiring the pragmatic practice of intimacy with Christ

“Through All of It” Cover

Just got out of the recording studio. Here’s a preview “Rough” Mix.

March 4, 2016 Posted by | JSM Covers, music | , , , | Leave a comment

“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.

December 21, 2015 Posted by | JSM Covers, music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

December 1, 2015 Posted by | JSM Covers, music | 1 Comment

It is Well (unmixed cover by Julie Stiles Mills)

Recorded October 30, 2015
“Far be it from me to not believe, even when my eyes can’t see…”

Lyrics Bethel It is Well

October 30, 2015 Posted by | JSM Covers, music | 1 Comment

Christmas shoes. seriously.

Christmas Shoes songBuying some Rockports for FavoriteHusband on ebay so I had to sing: “I’m gonna buy these shoes…”

(pause)

Me: “It’s like that song was intentionally written to make people cry. Just wanna find the guy who wrote it and smack him. It doesn’t make sense. What little kid’s gonna tell a cashier ‘Mister, I wanna buy these shoes.’ That would just never happen. It’s not how it works. You put your stuff on the counter, the cashier scans it, you give them money. End of story. And how did the little boy even get there? All by himself? He’s supposed to be a little kid. Seriously. It just doesn’t make sense.”

FavoriteHusband just shakes his head, rolls his eyes and grins: “You are your son’s mother.”

Let me just say, if you are ever in line behind a filthy little boy who’s all alone and you hear him ask the cashier to “please hurry” because he’s buying shoes for his dying momma, do NOT stand there and watch while they ‘count pennies for what seemed like years.’ Do NOT wait for the kid to ASK you to help. Pay for the shoes. and make sure he has a ride. Especially if it’s Christmas eve. Seriously.

#rantcomplete

December 5, 2014 Posted by | holidays, laugh!, music, pinterest, youtube | Leave a comment

speak life.

When PinkGirl and I go to Disney, we often pray and look for opportunities to “speak life” to the people God places in our path.

I wish I could say “always” instead of “often” but I can’t.

Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we are obliviously self-involved.

But not today.

1 thessalonians 5 11I posted this on facebook last night:

“I was reminded again tonight.

Everybody is ‪#‎justadifferentkindofbroken‬

Sometimes, it’s all I can do NOT to abandon “appropriate” surface conversation and take someone by the hand, lead them to a quite corner, look them in the eye, and ask, “How are you, REALLY?” and really SEE them and LISTEN to them.

PinkGirl and I are going to Magic Kingdom tomorrow. Already praying we recognize God’s prompting when he nudges us to encourage the person or people He places in our path. yeah. we know we’re weird. but we’ve almost come to terms with that. ‪
#‎seepeople‬ ‪#‎edify‬ ‪#‎loveGodloveothers‬

A friend commented: “Sometimes takes multiple conversations and kind gestures before someone will share. Trust is a big thing when you share your stuff. And you have to make sure that someone will walk through it with love and kindness.”

I responded this morning:

“I’m willing to put in the time. Since I asked God to break my heart for what breaks his, I have been amazed – and blessed – at how many times He’s equipped me to step out of my comfort zone and reach out to people – to see them and listen to them – in love, with no judgement.

In the beginning, I was blown over when someone – friend or stranger – shared something deeply personal, but now, it’s happened so many times that when I pray for God to show me who He wants me to reach out to, I already know He will.

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

I pray most of all for the Holy Spirit to nudge me, not only for the who, but the when. I also pray that He won’t let me miss the opportunity out of fear or oblivion.

Strangely, He nudges me OFTEN in a Disney waiting line. Strangers to friends in the time it takes to meet a princess.

Today, I find myself thinking I need to offer to pray for someone. Not sure if He’ll prompt me to do it, but if He does, I pray He’ll bless me with the courage and motivation to be immediately obedient.”

You are Now Entering the Mission Field

PinkGirl and I see Disney as one of our many mission fields.

Our mission is not to “save” people, but to serve people.

Our prayer is that, through whatever interaction we’ve had with them, someone might be drawn closer to Christ.

It’s not our job, it’s our prayer.

I know we risk ridicule and rejection, be we don’t hide our faith in these interactions. If the natural flow of conversation leads us to share something about our lives with someone, it’s not uncommon that we acknowledge our dependance on God and His influence on our lives.

So, if someone who wasn’t thinking about God and spiritual things before spending time with us, begins or continues to think about God and spiritual things after spending time with us, then our prayer was answered with a big YES.

Even if we never know it.

This is our Disney theme song:

(I love that the person speaking life in this video is a little blonde girl.)

October 25, 2014 Posted by | christian living, intentional living, music, peace love mickey, pinterest, pragmatic communion, prayer, status updates, youtube | , , , , , | Leave a comment

lament.

Thinking about praise and worship music this morning.

In my personal experience and observation, more people seek God when they are hurting than when they are happy.

We should sing praise

and we should sing worship,

but we can’t forget lament.

It draws people to Christ.

Lament is not depressing, it reminds us we are not alone.

May 22, 2014 Posted by | music, pragmatic communion, praise team music, status updates | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

whatever may pass and whatever lies before me.

Sunday evening. Easter Sunday. I was sitting at the kitchen table, focused on my laptop. PinkGirl came over and turned my chair sideways so she could curl up on my lap and lay her head on my shoulder.

“Mom? How can I find joy in God?”

wow.

13 years old.

Immediately, I prayed.

“Lord, is this moment one of the reasons for everything that’s happened over the last year? Have you been preparing me for this question? Please help. Please speak through me.”

Me: “Well…for me…the way I find joy in God is to grow closer to Him. There are a few things you can do to grow closer to Him. You already know what’s first though, right?”

PinkGirl: “Pray?”

Joshua 1 9 prayerMe: “Yep. There’s lots of different ways to pray, but I think the way that brings me closest to God is practicing His presence. You remember what I told you about practicing the presence of God? How I first started doing it?”

PinkGirl: “No.”

Me: “I imagined Jesus physically with me everywhere I went – in the passenger seat of my van…”

PinkGirl: “oh yeah.”

Me: “Jesus is right here with us now.”

I pointed to the chair next to us.

“If you imagine Him sitting right here with us – not just sitting here, eavesdropping on our conversation, but actually participating in it, it changes everything. And sometimes not in a way you might expect. It won’t be all rainbows. You won’t be thanking Him and praising Him all the time. If you really do imagine Jesus with you wherever you go, you may find yourself crying and yelling at Him sometimes. Telling Him all the things you don’t think are fair, begging him to help you and heal you and protect you and getting frustrated or mad or even heartbroken when He doesn’t do what you want or expect or if He’s slower than you think He should be. But you have to be honest with God.”

PinkGirl: “He already knows anyway.”

Me: “Yeah, He does.”

We sat there for a while, talking about all the different ways to pray. We talked about honest, wide open prayer, without holding anything back. We talked about how authentic prayer helps us to grow closer to God and how growing closer to God helps us find joy in Him, no matter whether we’re happy or sad about what’s happening in our life. We talked about how happiness is temporal and based on our circumstances, but joy in God is eternal and based on who He is and our relationship with Jesus.

Me: “Prayer is when we tell God everything. But we also need to listen to Him. What’s the best way to hear from God?”

PinkGirl: “Be alone with Him?”

Me: “That’s one way. I call that abiding in Him. But that’s next. Something else comes first. The best way to hear God speak to us is to read His Word.”

PinkGirl: “I try, but I don’t understand a lot of it.”

Me: I get that. There’s a lot I don’t understand either. But here’s the thing. There’s a lot you do understand – way before you even get to the stuff you don’t understand. You understand what you learn in Bible [class], right?

PinkGirl: “yeah.”

Me: “So, see? You understand more than you think. Outside of Bible [class], what’s the last thing you read on your own?”

PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”

Me: “You understand the scriptures in your devotion book, right?”

PinkGirl: “yeah.”

Me: “What was your last devotion about?”

(thinking)

PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”

Me: “When do you do your devotion, in the morning or at bedtime?”

PinkGirl: “In the morning.”

Me: “After your devotion time is over, how often do you think about the scripture you read later in your day?”

PinkGirl: “none.”

Meditate on Gods Word Read BibleMe: “Just reading the Bible isn’t enough. You won’t grow in your relationship with Christ if you don’t remember what you read. You have to engage in God’s Word. That takes effort. How can you remember the scripture from your morning devotion throughout your day ? And for days after that?”

We talked about how on our own, reading the Bible isn’t something we want to do all the time and that God knows that. We talked about forgetting to read the Bible or not making time for it. We talked about how we make time for the other things we love. We talked about the first and constant thing we should do: pray and ask God to give us a desire to read His Word. We talked about the fact that we can’t just “do better” on our own. We talked about asking God to give us – to bless us – with a hunger for His Word – with a hunger for Him. We talked about setting reminders on her iPod, bands on her wrist, special jewelry, even writing notes to herself on her hand.

Me: “After reading the Bible, another good way to hear from God is to abide in Him. You called it being alone with Him. When are you ever truly alone. Quiet and still?”

PinkGirl: “When I’m in my room.”

Be still and know that I am God Psalms 46 10 Pause the noiseMe: “I mean really alone and quiet. No itouch, no iPad, no tv, no internet, no youtube, no text, no instagram, no facetime…”

PinkGirl: “oh.”

Me: “Sleeping doesn’t count.”

Me: “If you want to be closer to God, if you want to find joy in Him, you have to spend time with Him. Think of it this way. When you and PeterPanFan (her BFF) hang out together, you grow closer, don’t you think? You talk to each other, you have inside jokes, you start to think alike, finish each other’s sandwiches…even when you two are at your own houses, when you interact over the internet through text or instagram, you’re still spending time with each other even though you are miles apart. But if you were at your house and she was at her house and you weren’t interacting over the internet, you wouldn’t be able to hear her. What would happen to your friendship if you didn’t spend time together?”

(thinking)

Me: How connected can you be to God if you don’t spend time alone with Him?

(quiet. thinking)

Me: So. Prayer. Reading God’s Word and Abiding in Him. There’s something else you can do to find joy in God.”

PinkGirl: “what?”

Me: “Gratitude.”

PinkGirl: “Thanking Him?”

Me: “Actually there’s two kinds. Giving thanks for His blessings and praising Him for who He is. When you thank Him for blessings, you begin to recognize those blessings in your life more and more. And when you praise Him for who He is, no matter what your circumstances are, it helps you remember that God is sovereign and nothing happens to you that He doesn’t will or allow.”

We talked about disappointments, God’s providence and the peace that comes from trusting that all circumstances – which lead to both happiness and sadness – are God’s providence. We talked about tapestries. And praising Him, no matter what.

We talked about a lot of things. The things I’ve shared here are the things she gave me permission to share.

Afterwards, I realized.

Prayer. Reading God’s Word. Abiding in Him. Gratitude. P.R.A.G. The first four chapters of the book I was writing about how to experience a more intimate relationship with Christ. Seems so easy, just looking at them here. Not so easy. To do or to write about. If they were easy to do, every Christian would do them. If they were easy to write about…I haven’t been able to write for months. But in these precious moments with my daughter, I was able to articulate a summary in kid language.

He has been preparing me. Not only for that question at that moment.

God is Good. All the time.

(CLICK HERE for the story behind the song.)

April 22, 2014 Posted by | christian living, learning curve, music, pinterest, pragmatic communion, pragmatic parenting, praise team music, prayer, thankfulness, the search for Joy, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“churched”

The other day, someone asked me if my kids grew up “churched.”

The pause before my reply was noticeably long.

I was thinking.

What does that mean? I realize my personal background and filters contribute to my way of thinking, but no definition I could come up with made it seem like growing up “churched” would be a good thing. Merriam-Webster defines it as:

adjective: “affiliated with a church.”

Well. That’s vague.

churched.

The word has connotations. Through my personal filters, adding “ed” after the word church makes it reek of religious knowledge and practices, not relationship with Christ.

So, if growing up churched just means my kids grew up knowing the traditions of church – whatever church or religion that might be, then yes, they grew up churched. They know what a call to worship is, they can sing the doxology, they know what to do with an offering plate, they know the different ways to take communion and what an alter call is. They know what the Apostles’ creed is and they know the Lord’s prayer doesn’t end with the words “with liberty and justice for all.” They can follow the verse order of a hymn and even though they both have searchable Bible apps, they can find a scripture in a Bible with paper pages by it’s reference. In more contemporary churches, they know that a worship service usually begins with what we in our family affectionately term a “giddyup Jesus” song, and they know why this video is funny.

So, if all that means my kids grew up churched, then yes. My kids grew up “churched.”

Some might say, “Well, it’s better than nothing.”

Not necessarily.

Here’s the deal. If all that stuff is a precursor to a personal decision for Christ or an expression of a growing relationship with Him, then yes. It is better than nothing.

BUT, if all those things are part of their life instead of or apart from a growing relationship with Christ, I don’t necessarily think growing up churched is better.

It might actually be worse.

I’ve personally met so. many. people. who grew up going to church and as an adult, have not only abandoned church, but faith altogether.

A few months ago, I asked God to break my heart for what breaks His. (CLICK HERE to read that post – and if you ever think about praying that, brace yourself.)

One clear and constant answer has been the fact that so many people have turned away from faith in Christ without ever really knowing what it is.

Who He is.

Growing up churched has kept more than a few people from relationship with Christ because they think that all those things I mentioned about church is evidence of a relationship with Christ.

Not always true.

That’s what I was thinking during the extended silence that followed the “Did your kids grow up churched?” question.

But when I broke that silence, what did I say?

“uhhhhh. Well. We took them to church if that’s what you mean.”

I am so articulate sometimes.

The truth is that despite all their knowledge and understanding of religious practices, my kids never heard the gospel explained in kid language at the church we attended. Hell was too scary for kids and Jesus was a role model, not a Savior. Discussions about asking Jesus to come into your heart? The Holy Spirit as a helper after you ask Jesus to come into your heart? No. (By the grace of God and through an extended, painful revelation process, we now understand that we need to be part of a Christ-centered church.)

We went to church on Sunday mornings, did a few summers of VBS, went to some fall costume parties, some Christmas breakfasts with Santa and some Easter egg hunts. Sunday school was mostly Bible stories and crafts. VBS was a rotation of Bible stories, crafting sessions and outdoor games interspersed with music, snacks and cute videos with moral and ethical messages.

They learned that God loved them. They learned they should help people. They learned God wanted them to be “good” like Jesus. They learned that they should give joyfully.

teach children diligently Deuteronomy 6 6-7But my kids first learned about having a relationship with Christ from my husband and I. Because we knew that our faith couldn’t be theirs by force or wishes, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would draw them to Christ, and we told them about Jesus. Through our lives – our words and our actions – they saw what faith in Christ really is – a relationship. They knew Jesus loved them – no matter what – just like we loved them. We prayed with them, we did family devotions together, we were authentic with them about the lessons God was teaching us, we listened to their problems, their fears and their joys and we continuously helped them to view and navigate all three through faith in God.

By the grace of God, they both accepted Christ at a very early age. By the grace of God and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we did our best to disciple them as they grew in their faith.

We enrolled them in Christian school because we wanted them to learn as much about the Bible as they did about math, science, history, spelling and English. When they moved onto middle school and began building on that Bible knowledge and learning theology, we actively engaged them in discussions that helped them figure out and ground themselves in their own beliefs, some of those beliefs different from what were being taught at school. As my son has grown older and graduated from high school, he’s come to some beliefs that differ from his mom and/or dad. (No surprise, mom and dad don’t always agree either.)

Regardless of the tangential beliefs we each have, we share faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. All four of us depend on the Holy Spirit to equip us for the life we live, striving to follow the Father’s will.

My husband and I are confident that each of our children have their own faith in and relationship with Christ. We pray for those relationships regularly.

But “Did your kids grow up churched?” is a yes or no question. There wasn’t time to think through all that, much less say it.

Hence the blog post.

April 21, 2014 Posted by | christian living, pinterest, pragmatic communion, pragmatic parenting, praise team music, prayer, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

toxic concoction.

Doubt and Faith Toxic Concoction Mark Buchanan Your God is Too SafeI got cocky.

I thought I could logically justify my faith in God.

You’ll find some Christians who’ll tell you they can do it.

not me.

not anymore.

When someone told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable, I bristled. Or should I say, my ego bristled? I challenged them to prove it.

They couldn’t. (Their emotionally charged reasoning was circular and redundant and they completely ignored me when I poked questions into the holes in their arguments.)

But in the aftermath of those discussions, I discovered I couldn’t disprove it either.

Science and logic have limits. There are some things that can’t be understood or explained (and a definition isn’t an explanation).

Like what causes gravity.
Like human consciousness.
Like quantum entanglement (what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”).

Like God.

Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just means we don’t understand why. Or how.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that God cannot be completely understood. I forgot that a God I can understand is a God I create. Confine. Any God I can completely understand is limited by time and space and the extent to which I can understand.

Any God who is limited by my understanding is not transcendent.

I was reminded – the hard way – that I don’t want a God I can understand.

It was a season of extreme paradox in my life.

My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more aware of my weakness apart from Christ.

My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more intimately and desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit.

I prayed daily for wisdom and discernment and empathy and compassion. I prayed daily for Him to continuously make me aware of opportunities to be the hands and feet and voice and ears of Christ. Watching and listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit had never been more in the forefront of my awareness. I prayed not only for the Holy Spirit to prompt me when to speak and act, but when to be silent and still.

I prayed for Him to equip me in what I honestly knew to be beyond my capabilities.

and then.

The person who told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable asked me a simple question:

If God is sovereign, why pray?

You’d think I would have considered that question before, me being all spiritually “mature” and everything.

Turns out, I had never really thunk it through. I had dismissed it, thoughtlessly citing Biblical platitudes like “I pray because Jesus prayed.” and “I pray because the Bible tells us to pray.”

When I finally looked at the question straight on, my entire relationship with God came to a screeching halt.

I couldn’t pray.

I wanted to turn back the clock. To unthink what I was thinking. I wanted the faith of a child.

I wanted stronger faith.

Suddenly and overwhelmingly, I identified with Philip Yancey when he wrote:

“I envy, truly I envy, those people who pray in simple faith without fretting about how prayer works and how God governs this planet. For some reason I cannot avoid pondering these imponderables.”

What was so different about this question this time? It came at a critical juncture in my life. After arguing with God for months, I had finally taken the terrifying step of obedience by sharing something I believe God was revealing to me. Something I tried to ignore. Something I didn’t want to see: That I was part of a church which marginalized grace, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prayer and relationship with Christ. That we forgot 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 and were ignoring Matthew 28:19.

I was genuinely repentant and prayed desperately for God to bring revival. Heartbroken, I asked for people to pray with me. I was blindsided by how angry people were, how fast and how much they misunderstood what I said and how vehemently they rejected not only what I was saying, but me.

I had argued with God, finally doing what I believed He was prompting me to do and I was faced with closed hearts, closed minds and slammed doors.

So I did what anyone “mature” in their faith would do. I ran into a cave and hid.

A dark cave.

“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:4-9

Go ahead, sing-song it with me.

“Julie and Elijah, sitting under a tree, w. h. i. n. ing.”

I prayed.

and then I couldn’t.

Because God is sovereign and God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do.

And then I prayed because I couldn’t help it.

Because a life void of intimacy with Christ and utter dependance on the Holy Spirit was vastly empty. and hopelessly dark.

Desolate.

I prayed because I couldn’t help it while at the same time believing that praying to a sovereign God who’s working a plan and doesn’t need my help was…pointless.

Not logical. Not pragmatic.

And that’s where faith is required.

And where doubt came in.

I never doubted the existence of God. I never doubted Christ or the Cross or the redeeming power of His blood. I never doubted my salvation.

I doubted the point of me.

If God is sovereign, why pray?

If God doesn’t need me, why would He even bother with me? Why did He even bother with me?

And that’s why I say I can’t logically justify my faith.

In my darkest night, when God was completely silent, when the logical, rational and reasonable foundation for my faith was beyond my sight,

I still had faith.

I still have faith.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | apologetics, books, Christ-Centered Church, christian living, pinterest, pragmatic communion, praise team music, prayer, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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