Singing to Self? Put a Worm in That Bird!

Meryl Streep’s new movie is one I thought I would not like. To my surprise, Florence Foster Jenkins is a thumbs up with great acting, intriguing true story, and authentic 1944 set design and costumes. Streep’s singing especially produces laughs.



The movie is constructed to make viewers empathetic to delusional Florence, even as they laugh at her. What my father-in-law once said about a church soprano is true about Streep’s fascinating and funny Florence: “Somebody needs to put a worm in that bird!”

Florence Loved Her Singing

Florence (1868-1944) was a rich socialite who patronized New York City’s music world. Her money and her devoted manager  offered some protection in high society, even as the cultural elite snickered at Florence’s lavish operatic productions.

Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing. –Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944)


One truth about Florence was the woman had passion. Music gave her a reason to live and was the idol she worshipped. Sadly, the notes she heard in her head and ears were not what came out of her mouth.

Florence’s lies to self make me wonder about my deceptions. How often do I play the fool, without even knowing it?


Self Delusions Are Subtle

Our culture is full of self delusions. We photo shop and Facebook, Instagram, text, and twitter (little bits of bird song, there). Even a blog is a controlled piece of information. These communication tools are not bad in themselves, but we sometimes fool ourselves into believing that these projections represent the real us. In marketing terms, they “brand” us.

Did you see The Truman Show movie? It was the story of a large TV audience watching baby Truman grow up in a constructed world of actors. All was well until adult Truman figured out his life was a lie. TV audiences and movie goers cheered for his emancipation. What a longing it illustrated for truth that sets us free.

From movie The Truman Show
From movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey

Who Are You?

A friend went to a conference recently where a speaker kept yelling, “Who are you? Who are you?” The session was so revealing to him that he rewrote his mission statement. He indicated that if you keep asking that question, you scrape away layers of faux identity to discover who and what really matters. (One word of caution to the introverts: “You are not a peeled onion,” scraping and crying and finding nothing left in the end. That kind of self-branding is also a deception.)

Whenever I get tangled up in who I really am or want to be I go back to the golden oldie Westminster Confession and it’s answer to the question of what is our purpose for life:

 “Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

To glorify God is a heady phrase, but it’s not as abstract as one might think. Maybe, to think about enjoying God first is the key to understanding more of His glory. Singing, praying, being aware of our Creator/Savior, spending time through fun, worship, and service with others–these are just some ways to glorify God. The central question to myopic evaluations is “Where is the heart’s focus?”

Allusion, Illusion, Delusion?

The singing duo stand in front of a white brick wall with Florida Georgia Line printed on wall in black letters and "Anything Goes" looking like graffiti in blue letters.
Florida Georgia Line is singing anything goes.

While I swam this summer in the neighborhood pool one lifeguard put on country music and sometimes played “H.O.L.Y” by Grammy winner Florida Georgia Line. It’s a catchy worship song, but unfortunately it plays on self-deceit. The song is all about idolizing one human being as the answer to soul-saving worship without any mention of the author of holiness.

The two lead singers, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, once were into worship music and college ministry. Now they are projecting a lie in a beautiful package. Human love cannot be holy without connecting to holy God. They don’t do that in their song.

Katy Perry
Katy Perry in 2016

Katy Perry, who is another singer who started out in Christian music, also distorts truth for profit in her 2013 song “Unconditionally.” To love someone unconditionally must have an eternal permanence about it to be authentic. This is not what Katy can accomplish in her own powers, but she can sing a catchy tune like she believes she can.

Perhaps I nitpick. It’s just that Florence and these contemporary singers have me reexamining those sneaky self-deceptions. If life is a song then I want to sing it true, on key, and in harmony with Jesus. Self-examination and repentance are good for a singing soul. I’ll be thinking about the lesson of Florence for a long time.


For more details about Florence Foster Jenkins go to:

If you want to join the over 62 million views of Florida Georgia Line’s H.O.L.Y song, it is here:


RIP, Speckles the Cat; Our Last Pet

Our 18-year-old cat Speckles was put to sleep recently. The time seemed appropriate, because Speckles was deaf and crippled and was experiencing weight loss and neck weakness. Now, she is somewhere over the rainbow. I miss her.

However, I do not miss the kitty litter messes, middle of the night meowing, and vet bills. Last week, I took my first overnight outing in four decades without having to find a pet sitter or kennel. That’s quite a lot of Dr. Doolittle experiences with dogs, cats, guinea pig, fish, and a bull frog. These pets all enriched our lives. Sadly, Speckles is the last pet for me.

Three years ago, the vet told us our kitty would probably die within 18-months unless we did pricey intervention. Farm girl that I am I said, “I am sorry. Speckles will now be in hospice care. I certainly do not want her to suffer, but we are not going in for expensive treatments.”


The doctor did not like my answer and tried to make me understand death was imminent.

“Look,” I said. “If I had an extra $1000 I would give it to Compassion International.”

We settled on a compromise and started buying special thyroid food for our beloved feline. My husband took over the vet visits and experienced the guilt pressure I was up against. Fortunately, another vet was in the office and seemed more accepting of our decision.

Speckles Surprises Us

Cat on stairs
Speckles’ brother Sergeant Major
Dog in snow
Speckles’ friend Makenzie








But our Speckles surprised us, and the vets, by living fairly comfortably all these months. The cat outlived her brother Sergeant Major, age 15; dog Cinnamon, age 13; dog Makenzie, age 7 (lymphoma); and guinea pig Little Dude, age 6.

Sitting white kitten in blue t-shirt
Nemesis Vanna White

One summer a few years back Speckles hissed and yowled over our summer visitor, “grand kitty” Vanna White. We loved that kitten, who played until she fell asleep in a sitting position. But Speckles was very happy when Vanna ended up being adopted by our daughter’s friend Benjamin Ingram.  (By the way, he is one of the top champions of the game show Jeopardy, winning over $400,000 in 2013-14. Vanna is one highly favored cat!)

Unlike kitties, however, all human babies in our household were treated by Speckles with patience and friendship.  She even had a front-row seat at one of our granddaughter’s birth on my carpet! See for that story.

Like most felines, Speckles always wanted that neck massage, and she would put her paw on our hands to make her point. Her purring and her soft bunny-like fur were so therapeutic. Our furry companion watched TV with us, exercised with us, and hung out at our cook-outs. Pets are family, right?

Little girl brushes cat.
Someone likes to be brushed.

There Has To Be a Last One

I have had domestic animals all my life except while attending college. And honestly I don’t know if I can go without a furry friend. But, there has to be a last pet. I’m grateful for the companionship and unique personalities of all those critters that traveled family life with us. We have our memories and pictures.

So, RIP dear Speckles. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing you and all those furry amigos again somewhere over the rainbow. Thank you for the gift of you.

Speckles, the cat


Speckles’ rainbow photo was taken last year by our cat sitter, Frank Carleton of Tranquility Pets. All other photos are by CSB.

Tree Power for You and Me

Photo by CSB


At my recent writer’s critique group, one woman asked her colleagues to critique some pages about a dystopia world in a Redwood forest. We gave her feedback, but I curiously watched and listened as several writers rhapsodized over the tree power they experienced among California’s redwoods. One woman said, You can walk among these natural skyscrapers and feel such protection and peace. You don’t get that walking under New York City’s tallest buildings.

I had to agree with her. Who doesn’t find solace under beautiful trees? And, why is this so?

Willow Tree Power

photo courtesy of Pixabay
Willow tree photo courtesy of Pixabay

On my bookshelf is the story of a woman, terribly abused as a child by her alcoholic father and passive, enabling mother. The woman says she found God’s comfort under a willow tree where she could hide, dream, and feel protected. Even then, she says she sensed that God would some day provide her with a mother who would mentor her in wholesome ways. The story concludes with a healthy adoptive mother and daughter. Her childhood Willow Tree was a tree of inner power and promise.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life stain glass, artist unknown
Tree of Life stain glass, artist unknown

When we dated long distance, my fiancé and I decided to do word Bible studies on seeds, vines, trees, and fruit. The one on trees was my favorite as I discovered that the Tree of Life, eventually forbidden in the beginning of Genesis, is found transplanted at the end of Revelation. It is joyfully available for eating in God’s future city:

“Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.

The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, The Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age” (Revelation 22:1-5, The Message).

We Are Trees!

tree planted by water
Photo by CSB

The Bible compares us to trees in several places. I had to memorize Psalm 1 at age 12 and recite it to my church before becoming a member. Here is the tree power portion:

Blessed is the one

who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

or sit in the company of mockers,

 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers.

(Psalm 1:1-3, New International Version)

A School of Oaks

Photo of two acorns and two acorn tops
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

This week I read about Indianapolis’s amazing The Oaks Academy, founded in 1998, and doing a great job for the 600 children enrolled there (half are low income, one-fourth middle income, and one-fourth higher income). Did you catch the tree power name of the school of Oaks?

Journalist Russ Pulliam writes, “The Oaks led the state on the Indiana academic Test this past year, beating out better-endowed private schools and suburban schools—but Oaks CEO Hart remembers a much bigger purpose for the school. He wants to bring a blessing to Indianapolis, in accord with Isaiah 61:3-4: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (p. 39, July 9, 2016, WORLD Magazine).

Photo of trees courtesy of Pixabay
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Oak Academy has the right idea. I mean, if we each are like God’s beautiful trees (Redwoods, Oaks, Evergreens, Aspens) we are participating in Kingdom-building right now. We can have a peaceful, potent impact on those who come under our branches. It’s tree power; and it’s marvelously at work wherever we are rooted.

Fall day
Colorado fall
Costa Rican ancient tree
Costa Rican ancient tree
photo by CSB
A Cincinnati road, all photos by CSB



For an 18-minute TED talk by tree ecologist Suzanne Simard, click on the link below to hear Simard describe how trees “talk” to each other through their elaborate root system.