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Surprise! Ukulele Worship Service

November 13th, 2016 . by maria

God has some crazy plans, and He sure surprises us. You know He gave me the Ukulele at the end of July, and I have been wanting to play it in church ever since. I really feel like God is wanting me using the Ukulele for worship, even though it is kind of an odd duck instrument. I’m like “God, the guitar would’ve been nice…I don’t know anyone looking for a Ukulele player for their worship team!” So…

This week, Jackie (our worship leader/keyboardist) was going to have me try to play along with one of the songs, and I had practiced it all week. But Jackie came down with bronchitis, so we didn’t have rehearsal Wed. Well, come Sat she was still sick, so Pastor Ramona texted us  and said we are doing the set list from Oct 9 with the CD. This is Sat at 3:45! I am feeling like I should I still play. So I look it over, and it has “Days of Elijah” and “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” and the CD version was in a good key for me for both those, so I practiced them 3x last night AND once Sun morning before going to church.

Get to church. Pastor Ramona is fine with me playing along. But Jackie was going to do the special for offertory, and she isn’t here and we don’t have a CD for anyone else to sing.. So, I said I would do  “Your love oh lord” with the Ukulele; I was practicing it for December anyway.

Scott was running the sound booth, Paul is out. We practice, it is good. Uke is fine on those 2 songs, and the special. Last song, Scott has gone to the bathroom so we practiced it acapella. This is important because…

Worship service. We start Days of Elijah, and halfway thru the first verse, the CD cuts out. Mics are OK, Uke is OK, but no CD. We continue the song with the Ukulele and we keep singing. They try 2 more times, and a different CD, but the CD is not working. We end up doing 2 songs Ukulele and 3 acapella, and I do the special, and it is all good, and The Spirit was there, and people loved it.

Well, when God wants you to lead worship with a Ukulele, He will make it happen!

Prince of Peace : Sometimes God works through Songs

October 11th, 2016 . by maria

2016 (in the wake of Hurricane Matthew)

Last Sunday, those of us who were able to straggle into church had a very special time together. We thanked God for our safety, praised Him for his goodness, and prayed for those who weren’t here. We also shared stories of how we weathered the storm – and in those stories one theme started to emerge – Peace. (Sometimes God works through themes.) We had peace in the preparations, peace in our decision to stay, several of us even had peace to sleep through the storm.

I, too, experienced peace in the storm. But…I need to back up a little bit to tell you why. See, many years ago I bought this Ukulele on a whim. I was on vacation with my Mom in the Poconos, and we thought it seemed like a fun memento to have. (Sometimes God works through parents.) I had never played any stringed instrument, but it might be fun to try, and it was small and inexpensive…and SO CUTE! Well, I never got the hang of it, and it has hung on my wall for years. Every once in a while I get it down, open the book that came with it, and attempt to tune it. [TUNE IT] And play a few strums. That’s as far as I’d get before I got frustrated, or bored, and put it back on the wall. (No, seriously. [C] Strum strum …uhm….[F] strum?  Ugh…wall. That was IT.)

But something happened near the end of this July. It was my husband’s birthday…, and I wanted to do something special for him. (Sometimes God works through our spouses.) He had been watching America’s Got Talent, seeing adorable Grace Vanderwaal play her Ukulele. [I Don’t Know My Name] He really liked it. So, I thought I’d give mine another shot. I didn’t expect much, but I would try…for Alex. (Sometimes God works in mysterious ways…even through America’s Got Talent.) So, I tuned it, and I played a few chords. Then I looked up, and saw those same chords in our praise music for that week. [Good Good Father] So I tried playing that…and it worked! I turned through my notebook and found another song with those chords, and it worked too. [Days of Elijah] So every day that week, I worked through a couple songs. A week later, I posted a recording to Facebook – #ukuleleworship. [How Great Is Our God].

I started watching YouTube tutorials to learn new techniques [Lean On Me], and learning different songs. Like the night I played [Kokomo] right along with the Beach Boys… (Sometimes God works by giving you something Just For You) I grew up on Beach Boys music. I knew God was doing something and I couldn’t stop, so I even took my Ukulele on a business trip. Yep – September 11th, 2016… I was on a plane… with my Ukulele. In the hotel room at night, I practiced, and even sent my hubby a recording. [Gracious Tempest] When I returned, I signed up to play this Sunday. I didn’t know what song yet, but I knew God wanted me to play here.  In fact, ALL along, I knew that God was giving me a special gift that was meant to be shared…because (Sometimes God works through Special Gifts). I’m not saying “Gift” like “Gifted Virtuoso”..I’ve seen those videos – Jake Shimabukuro Bohemian Rhapsody on the Ukulele! I am NOT there …yet…  But I myself hadn’t been capable of learning anything on the Ukulele all these years. So, being able to play it, and sing along, and do it well enough that the song kept going and was recognizable?! It’s a gift – a “wow, Thank You Lord” kind of gift.

So when this hurricane was coming, I had Peace. Because I knew God had given this gift, and I was meant to share it. And I hadn’t played my Uke for you yet. So – I was going to be just fine. That may seem a little silly, but (Sometimes God works through the peace that passes understanding.) . Even last weekend, I STILL didn’t know what song yet, so Friday during the storm I practiced lots of songs…for hours…Ukulele is a good thing to do when there’s no power. Praising God is a good thing to do during a storm. [Your Love Oh Lord]  And Sunday came…and we each spoke about Peace In The Storm.  (Sometimes God works by giving ordinary words special meaning.) Pastor Howard used a particular phrase several times…”Prince of Peace”. He didn’t know it…but he was telling me which song to play. [Prince of Peace, Hillsong United]

Plant Those Seeds

April 15th, 2016 . by maria

PlantItAnywaysYou may not see the results of the work you’re doing today. Your teenager may be sulky. Your classes may be boring. Your paycheck may be small. Your marriage may be difficult. Your garden may be pitiful. Plant it anyways. Have the difficult discussions, do the work, learn the lessons, give the lectures, even when it doesn’t feel like it is going somewhere.

My mother planted bulbs in her flowerbeds. (As a teacher, counselor, and mother, she planted many things within many people too.) She passed away suddenly 3 1/2 years ago, and now my dad is selling their house to us, so he can maintain something smaller. This morning, I found something beautiful in front of our house. My mother’s flowers are still blooming.



Should you watch Lucifer?

March 6th, 2016 . by maria

There has been a lot of grumbling among Christians against the show Lucifer, now playing on Hulu. The premise of the show is that Lucifer “takes a break” from running the place below, and spends some time on earth with humans. The concern amongst Christians was either that the show would glorify Satan as someone “cool and fun”, or that it would humanize him so that his power would not be feared. So, a lot of people vilified the show – sight unseen – and made a fuss about not supporting such ideas by watching it.

I have a confession to make: Even though I am Christian, I have actually watched several episodes now. The lit major in me wanted to see how they handled it (myth? fantasy? Biblical story? Etc.) I also wanted to be able to give an answer if someone asked me why Christians were so against the show. And I don’t like to give answers without learning what I am taking about first. Perhaps some of my Christian friends won’t like what I am about to say: Lucifer isn’t evil. The show, I mean.

The show is basically a cop/sidekick show, with Lucifer treated as a mythological being brought into present. Very reminiscent of the way the show Sleepy Hollow began, but strangely not as dark. He is a night club owner, but gets caught up with a female cop. There is an angelic being set up as a foil, to keep a lid on things, and provide us insight. Because Lucifer has taken human form, his powers are lessened, but we still see what I feel is a decent portrayal of how the true Satan might work. He plays off of peoples fleshly desires, tempts people, uses their past mistakes against them, and very openly uses charisma to manipulate people. Trust me, there isn’t a whole lot of glorification of Satan in here, and the glimpses of humanism show that he is a flawed being blinded by his own motives. My husband said “They certainly didn’t set him up as a good guy, and it has reminded me how crafty Satan is and how he works.”

A few episodes in, we begin to learn more about Lucifer’s history, and the show includes accurate Biblical references. Yes, Bible verses actually get read accurately, and not misconstrued. (We’ll see if that continues.) This has the potential to put some Bible history out there in the heads of people who wouldn’t have had it before, or – gasp – make some people crack open a Bible or ask a pastor a question. (I know WE were looking up references after the episode we just watched.)

Do I think you SHOULD watch Lucifer? Only if you have some interests like mine, our have a friend or family who watches the show and might have questions. There are many other shows that glorify sinful nature or justify sinful behavior, normalizing something which should be unacceptable. Where is the outrage about them? Some obvious ones would be Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy. But sitcoms and softer shows can be just as bad, treating unwed parents and drunken debauchery as completely normal, natural behavior… Because in this culture they are. But never even acknowledging that there is a God, a devil, or even a Bible. (Except for the occasional “Oh God” at certain…um… Moments.)

We should ask not if a show is inherently evil, but what we gain from watching it. Even a show which is morally bankrupt can be a teachable moment for a parent with older children. A show about Satan come to earth is much more pertinent to Christians than one about vampires, for example. And if we aren’t able to correct its errors at the water cooler, who will? It may not be the right show for you, and that’s fine. But when Hollywood puts out a show that touches on Biblical topics, I think at least some Christians ought to watch it. And if some of the people watching it are not Christians, and they have questions, there will be someone to answer them.

Falling Leaves

May 26th, 2014 . by maria

If you have a wooded area near you, go stare out into it for a few minutes. If not, try to remember the last time you were in a deeply wooded area.


As I worked today, I paused and my eye was drawn out the window to the woods around our house. I stared out and tried to guess how far along the valley I could actually see before the leaves eventually blocked my view. As I pondered, these words came to me:


“You cry for the leaf nearest you when it falls, but you can barely see past your own nose. You cannot conceive of the numbers of leaves I have created and hold in my hand, and I cry for them all and rejoice in them all. When they are full and green and dance for me as my breath blows on them, I rejoice in them. When are gold and brown and they fall, I cry for them. For all of them. Numbered beyond the stars, numbered like the sands, for each one of you.”

The Fall of Rome

August 20th, 2013 . by maria

But, we love to think we’re secure. We love to believe that, no matter what, there will always be a safety net. We love to think that we deserve time off – we who spend hours a day on our computers or televisions or games or hobbies – we deserve a break from all this. But the truth is, no matter what plans and promises have been made, nothing is guaranteed, and the things you depend on will eventually fail. (You know this is true…you know people who have lost jobs, houses, marriages…) So, exercise your independence and ingenuity now, as much as you can, no matter what your situation. Be your own strength, and turn to God for the strength you lack. Enjoy your life, but don’t be lulled into thinking it can’t change; work to improve and sustain it daily.

Inspired by this quote:

“In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life and they lost it all – security, comfort and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them; when the freedom they wished for most was the freedom from responsibility, then the Athenians ceased to be free.” – Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Defending your Faith conference notes

March 15th, 2013 . by maria

A couple weeks ago we had a great conference at our church called “Defending Your Faith”. My oldest son and I were excited about it because the speaker (Ray Ciervo) had visited the church previously and spoken on Sunday, and we really enjoyed it. The conference was spread over 3 days, and included several break out sessions where you could choose which topic you wanted to learn about. I geeked out and took my netbook, so I could take copious notes. My son has since asked for a copy of my notes, and a friend of his wants a copy as well, so I decided to post them here. Actually I am going to post 3 things:

1. Teaser bullet points from my notes from Ray Ciervo’s original visit:

  1. Refute and Demolish strongholds & arguments
  2. Reason and Present Evidence (Acts 17:2-4)
  3. Adjust to your Audience: know what they beleive (Acts 17:23-30)
  4. Content: fight for our Faith (Jude 1:3)
  5. Always be Ready to Give a Defense (1 Peter 3:15)
  6. Certainty: So that you may knwo the exact truth (Luke 1:1, Acts 1:3)
  7. Pillar and Support of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15)
  8. Apologetics (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

2. Full pdf of my notes from all 3 days – organized and made all pretty. I even pulled in the full text of each quoted Bible verse, and put these in a special font. I also looked up the full and correct name and spelling of each book and author. Book recommendations for each section are also called out in a box. Where I wasn’t sure on something, I noted it. Where something was my own thought, I noted that and changed the font, so you can tell. Enjoy! DefendingYourFaith-ECC-20130301

3. Link to the ministries’ website where you can listen/download/app the podcast/mp3s of all the sessions, including the breakouts we didn’t choose so they aren’t in my notes. In case other things have been posted after, and you don’t see them at the top, You are looking for the items on 3/1, 3/2, and 3/3/2013 or titled “Apologetics Conference 2013”:

How NOT to get Junk Gifts

December 10th, 2011 . by maria

Every year someone in our family decides to start the “we aren’t exchanging gifts this year” discussion. There is always the claim to the finest motivations: being anti-consumerist, too many family members, having to much stuff anyway, etc. So, they tell everyone not to give gifts. Maddeningly, they wait until after December 1st to do it.

Now, I am not materialistic. But I really enjoy giving gifts. I like the challenge of finding something within my budget, that I think really fits the recipient. I shop (and craft) year round and store things up for Christmas. So, I have already gotten a lot of my shopping done by the time this discussion starts, which makes it sort of a moot point.

Additionally, I like to honor the tradition of gift giving which, according to my religion, was started on Christmas when God gave us his Son. Giving you a little joy gives me a little joy as well. So, no matter what you say, I am going to give gifts. I don’t require you to give them; don’t feel guilty if you don’t. But, I get a kick out of it and you aren’t going to rain on my parade!

Another reason some people don’t want to exchange gifts is that they don’t want to get stuff they don’t need. Hey – We’ve all gotten that awkward handmade gift. It builds character to allow your kids to receive things they don’t want and teach them to do so graciously. If you feel you already have enough character, I refer you to the paragraph above…allow the giver the chance to feel the joy of giving you something.

None of the above is really a reason to forego gift giving. If you really don’t want to receive something you don’t want, then what you really need to do is write your wish list. I know – you probably haven’t done that since you were a kid. You are thinking “but the problem is that there is not anything that I want!” you’ll need to adjust your thinking…instead of what you want, how about what you don’t mind getting more of? The following is a template that can be used by anyone of any age, and should result in a list that is junk-free, provides ideas at several price points (including free gifts of time/talent), and gives your happy-givers plenty of ideas.

And if you are the person who wants to give something ,but never knows what to give, you can ask your relatives to complete the list below to give you some ideas.

1. Favorite candy, snack food, etc. -For stocking stuffers or a gift basket.
2. Favorite baked good(s) made by your relatives.
3. Common item you are always running out of. (Printer paper, Ibuprofen, etc.)
4. Common household item that needs replaced this year. (Bath towels, can opener, etc.)
5. Place you shop at. (grocery store, discount store, department store) – For gift cards.
6. Online service you use (music, movies, tech, etc.) – For gift cards/prepaid codes.
7. Favorite restaurant(s) – For gift cards.
8. Charities or causes you support. -For them to give/serve in your honor.
9. Activity you enjoy/place you go. (Place you golf, concert you want to attend, etc.)
10. Something you need someone to do for you. (Oil changed, shelf installed, dog walked.) – For gifts of service
ONLY AFTER LISTING THE ABOVE, you can list specific items. Be sure to list the size, color, brand, features, etc. If you have a link to a webpage to buy the item, put it here. Try thinking of:
1. Things you have been meaning to buy and haven’t gotten yet. (Bath mats instead of towels on the floor for your new apartment.)
2. Things you should replace, but have been putting off. (That tatty puffy coat.)
3. Things you think you would like but are afraid to waste your own money on. (That only-on-tv gadget that sounds too good to be true.)

When you hand out your list, you can always preface it with “I don’t really want anyone to spend money on me this year. But this is in case you don’t listen.” Oh, and, you should probably keep in mind that handing it out NOW might be a little late for this year. But there’s always next year.

Goodbye, space shuttles

July 8th, 2011 . by maria

NASA’s space shuttle program was born in January 1972, when President Richard Nixon announced its existence to the nation. (I was born that year.) The first flight took place on April 12, 1981. (My sister Amanda Lynn Fineran was born about a month later.) I grew up in FL, and I remember seeing the shuttle explode over our schoolyard in Jr. High. I remember watching TV and seeing the ISS first docking with a shuttle…it was amazing. We have never known a world without a US space shuttle program. It is the end of an era. I feel like crying.


May 12th, 2011 . by maria

“My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”
–William James, The Principles of Psychology, Vol.1

 Initiative isn’t given, you take it. The amazing thing is that unlike taking an apple or a chocolate bar, there’s no loss to the rest of us. After you take it, we all benefit. There’s one other thing you can take at work, easily and with approval: responsibility. In fact, they sort of have to go together. One without the other is a mess.
Seth Godin

Atheism is such an intolerant religion.
Orson Scott Card

You can never get enough of what you don’t really need to make you happy (Eric Hoffer).

Lloyd Shearer used to write this as a New Years resolution in Parade magazine:
“Be compassionate with the striving, tender with young and the aged, tolerant of the wrong and the weak. You will have been all of these in your lifetime.”

As Elizabethan poet and statesman Fulke Greville has written, “Our companions please us less from the charms we find in their conversation than from those they find in ours.”

William Morris admonished, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”


In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he’s tired. Everyone is. That’s not the point. The point is to run. – Seth Godin

Nietzche explained it well: “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”

Have you ever heard a piano played by a young student, and then played by the master teacher? Or seen shop tools handled by a middle school student, and then handled by a master craftsman? What a difference the same tools make in the proper hands. – Anonymous,,1

If you’re not the one creating the change, perhaps it’s time to start. – Seth Godin

The realistic pictures can’t show anyone why they would want the better thing, whatever it is. The better-ness parts are all on the inside, just like people.
– Anthony Zuppero, “To Inhabit the Solar System”

Successful zealots don’t argue to win. They argue to move the goalposts and to make it appear sane to do so. – Seth Godin

As George Orwell observed, “But what is work and what is not work? Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody.”

The less a project or task or opportunity at work feels like the sort of thing you would do if this is just a job, the more you should do it. – Seth Godin

Nearly everyone in the room was idealistic in this way. They would not be
here if they did not harbor some kind of irrational illusion about the
compatibility between humans and space. They believed that whatever we
wanted to do would be completely doable. All we needed was the decision to
do it. Unrealistic as it was, the concept of us doing whatever we imagined
was ok. After all, at least two people who actually walked on the moon
were here at this meeting.
– Anthony Zuppero, “To Inhabit The Solar System”

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