I’m really stepping out of my comfort zone! I used to play the piano okay in my youth, but since I married an excellent pianist 40 years ago, I haven’t had the need to play much—until now. I made the mistake of telling Dr. Becky Lombard who teaches piano at Truett-McConnell College, that Dennis and I play a one-piano, four hands arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” every Christmas. In fact, we made an even bigger mistake of performing it for her last Christmas at our house. Not a good idea.
This Saturday and Sunday night at our church Helen First Baptist, where Dr. Lombard is also the church pianist, she has put together a program called Keyboards @ Christmas. There will be five grand pianos on stage with ten players—I am one of those players—and Dennis and I have also been forced into playing our duet of “Sleigh Ride” in the middle of the program. (Y’all pray for me!) I’m thinking that this will be a sad attempt at comic relief in a program where the other 9 pianists are consummate musicians. (Y’all pray for me!)
Anyway, my word of encouragement to one and all is to be careful when you ask God to stretch you beyond your limits because He’s likely to do just that. (Y’all pray for me!)
Another thing I agreed to do is to write some narration that puts the program together. That’s something I feel quite equipped to do; however, when I was asked to be the narrator—well, y’all pray for me! Seriously!
In the narration I added the story from my book Yuletide Blessings: Christmas Stories that Warm the Heart that was released last Christmas. I was reminded of this beautiful story of how God intervened in a broken man’s life and brought him through to a place of peace. Here is part of that story:
From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s journal:
“How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”
“I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”
“‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
No journal entry.
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
How did the great poet go from despair to silence to hope? It is no wonder that his poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” has become a beloved, classic Christmas carol. And when you know the story of Mr. Longfellow’s journey, it inspires more than hope to those who grieve. It also recollects the reason for which Christ was sent to earth.
July 1861. The War Between the States had just begun and Henry, his wife, Fanny and their five children were in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a house overlooking the Charles River. It was a hot summer and Fanny wrote in her journal “We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.”
The next day Fanny decided to cut little Edie’s hair. Since it was the child’s first haircut Fanny wanted to preserve a lock of the hair in wax as she had with the older children. Hoping for a breeze of relief, Fanny did not realize what a hazard she had created as she lit a wax candle to seal the hair package and then opened a window to get a breeze flowing. A gust blew in, caught the hot wax, which splattered Fanny’s dress. The fabric immediately burst into flames. Panicked, Fanny began to run. She ran into Henry’s study screaming for help. In his attempt to smother the flames he was badly burned on his face and hands. Fanny, however, died from her injuries. Henry could not attend his wife’s funeral because of his burns. The pain was excruciating – physically and emotionally.
A home that should have been filled with joy and laughter at the next Christmas, 1861, was instead somber and silent. The cloud of mourning had not yet lifted. There was little sign of hope.
The following year, 1862, Charles Longfellow, Henry’s oldest son joined the Union Army. As the young man marched off to battle, his father feared he would never see his son again.
On Christmas, 1863, Henry received the news. Charles had been wounded in battle. A bullet had passed under his shoulder blade and injured his spine. In those days, such a wound was most often crippling if not fatal.
The following Christmas, 1864, though he was an invalid, Charles was still alive. There were rumors of the war’s end and hope began to flicker. On Christmas Day, Henry picked up his pen and wrote the first verses of the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Though total peace was somewhat elusive from a world point of view it was possible that Christmas Day to find peace.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)