Heaven welcomed a very special servant home last week, and I was privileged to sing for his celebration of life service. Dr. James Caldwell, former Minister of Music at Riverland Hills Baptist Church here in Columbia, as well as former head of the Music Department of Columbia College passed away after having a stroke about a month before. He was the minister of music leading in the invitation hymn, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" on thatSunday night when I was but 9 years old, and walked forward to receive Christ as my Savior. He was the children's choir director when I was given my first solo in a children's musical in the 5th grade. He was my college professor, advisor, and some of my dearest friends' father/father-in-law/husband/grandfather. He and his wife Charlotte touched countless people together. To say he played an important role in my life would be an understatement.
Death is never an easy pill to swallow, especially when it is someone you love and hold so dear. As I sang that morning, looking out over the sea of faces of those who loved him, and had been touched by his life, I was grateful. Grateful for a man who gave his all, all for the glory of God.
In recent days, the Lord has been speaking to me in my quiet times, sermons, Bible readings, morning devotions and life circumstances about giving. The word give continues to pop up almost everywhere I turn.
From God Calling I read: "Give, Give, Give. Give abundantly. Feel that you are rich. You are followers of the World's Greatest Giver. Give of time, of personal ease and comfort, of rest, of fame, of healing, of power, of sympathy, of all these and many more. Learn this lesson and you will become a great power to help others."
John 7:38 says, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
C.S. Lewis wrote in My Utmost For His Highest: "Our Lord's purpose is to make a man exactly like Himself, and the characteristic of the Son of God is self-expenditure. If we believe in Jesus, it is not what we gain, but what He pours through us that counts. It is not that God makes us beautifully rounded grapes, but that He squeezes the sweetness out of us. God spilt the life of His Son that the world might be saved; are we prepared to spill our lives for Him? Hundreds of other lives will be continually refreshed."
In recent months, it seems to be a continual choice God is calling upon me to make...to give beyond my comfort zone in the areas of time, rest, leisure, resources. And yet each time I have said, "Lord, whatever you want of me, help me to willingly say yes," He has met me with exactly what I needed to make the sacrifice. When a friend or family member needed a listening ear in the middle of something I needed to do, the blessing was far greater than I ever could have imagined when I chose to stop, talk, listen, even pray.
When my heart was set on a time of refreshment for myself recently, the Lord made it undeniably clear that He was calling me to lay that down and view it as a completely different opportunity. Yet He still refreshed me when I chose obedience in pouring myself out from the Living Water He had already poured into me. Oh friends, He is reminding me that we can never out-give Him, as the more we give, the more He pours back into us. Rivers of living water. As the old hymn says, "Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee."
Ministry at a Glance:
The month of August closed out my summer concert series. I was privileged to minister throughout SC as well as a trip to NY and GA. Thank you for the wonderful churches that hosted me this month. Thank you, Bethesda Baptist in Whitmire, SC and Joyce Dallas. What a sweet lady you are.
Mount Olive Baptist in Hopkins, SC held a very special highlight as my music student Amelia Paxton joined me on a piano duet for the offertory at hers and her family's home church.
Boiling Springs United Methodist Church in Lexington, SC blessed me with the most beautiful gift basket that awaited me in the bride's room where I was to have some quiet prayer time before the service. And then during the service, after I sang a song with the children on stage, Sandra Padgett had gotten a flower for each child to individually hand to me as well as a vase to put them in. Such sweet, unexpected gestures of love and kindness. I enjoyed them for weeks, and was so touched at their thoughtfulness.
East Aurora Wesleyan Church in East Aurora, NY's Church in the Park is one of my favorite places to minister, as this was my 5th or 6th time there. I have come to call Rich and Sarah Nightingale friends after all of these years serving in ministry together, and I must admit one of my favorite things about being with them is the cooler temps, while also catching up on all God is doing up north.
North Gwinnett Church in Suwanee, GA was a wonderful way to close out the month, making new friends with Pastor Carey Hudson and wife Pam, also women's ministry director.
I was also tickled to sing a portion of my French aria from my Miss America days, as well as "Keep Believing" at the Pickens County Performing Arts Center Grand Opening in Liberty, SC where my voice student/friend/fashionista Lauren Cone and I enjoyed spending the evening with none other than the reigning Miss America Savvy Fields and reigning Miss South Carolina Suzi Roberts, both delightful young women. Best wishes to Suzi as she is competing for the title of Miss America as you are reading this!
It was a great summer, full of wonderful memories and friends made, and I am looking forward to an even busier September as we head into fall.
Ladies' Ministry Directors, as you are looking ahead to your holiday events, I would love for you to consider inviting me to come share my music and message centered around the season. Here is a little snippet for you to see and hear some of that presentation that I would love to share with your ladies...https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2BHn5yIYE8I
*Timeless Hymns II project in the works!*
I'm very excited to be heading to Austin, TX to record a new project in October with my friend/record company exec/producer Phillip Sandifer for a Timeless Hymns II project. What is your favorite hymn that you would like to be considered to be included? I'd love to hear from you.
On the Road Again:
Friday, September 8th
Benton Heights Presbyterian Church
Saturday, September 9th
First Baptist Church Keiser
Sunday, September 10th
First Baptist Church Keiser
Thursday, September 14th
Carolina's Hospital Systems
Senior Circle Anniversary
Sunday, September 17th
Mt. Tabor Lutheran Church
West Columbia, SC
Friday - Sunday, September 22nd-24th
Grace Fellowship Church
Guadalupe Christian Camp- Women's Retreat
Looking ahead, I will be speaking in October at the Sister Circle Girlfriend Getaway weekend in North Charleston, SC. Registration is open and I would love for you to join me there! You can register here http://www.lesliehowardministries.com/
Thursday, September 14th at 11:00 a.m. I will be speaking at Carolinas Hospital Systems First Anniversary Celebration sharing my story. Tickets are on sale now and I would love to have you there. You can purchase tickets for the event here.
On the Homefront:
HUGE PRAISE: I had to share some amazing news with you all regarding my precious music student, Megan Zelling, pictured here with her sweet mom Suzanne. You may recall praying for Megan over the years, having had 6 brain surgeries, the last one finally successfully removing the brain tumor she has had most of her life. When she began to have symptoms that called for an MRI recently, our hearts were so heavy that the tumor had returned. But being the people of faith that they are, Suzanne, Megan and husband/father Alex continued to commit the entire situation to prayer, trusting the Lord. As they went back for the next MRI to re-check the status of the tumor, the surgeon announced that it was gone. GONE! Friends, we are witnessing a modern day miracle performed by the Almighty God Himself! Now can you join me in my happy dance for this family that I have grown to love to dearly, having taught Megan since she was a 6-year-old blonde-headed munchkin, who is now a 17-year-old young woman who loves and trusts Jesus with every fiber in her being?! I just had to snap this picture in my kitchen last week as she came to her lesson the day after her Dr. appointment. Look at those radiant smiles! To Him be the glory!!!!!
My faithful companion and dog, Cookie turned 14 last month. That is 98 in people years, and we celebrated by going through the drive-through at McDonalds where we both got a quarter pounder with cheese. Look at that smile!
My summer students presented a beautiful recital here in my home where we also invited my neighbors to join us. I love these precious young musicians.
It's always great to see special friends, and "Nana Carter" is one of them. She took care of my baby brother Robert in the nursery years ago, being the only one that could get him to stop crying! I loved seeing her at Dr. Caldwell's funeral. She sends her love, Robert.
Between Allison's vacations and my trips, we rarely saw each other all summer. It was great to have an official "staff meeting" here at my house last week. Her sweet girls Abby and Hannah were so proud of themselves to have gotten over their initial fear of Cookie and hug him that I just had to snap this adorable picture of them with him.
On August 22nd, my mom would have celebrated her 75th birthday! Hers was a life lived given away. Robert and I are grateful to have had such a precious mama, and though we miss her every day, oh how sweet heaven will be!
My sis-in-love Elizabeth, nephew James Michael and I got away Labor Day weekend to soak in the last of the summer at Myrtle Beach. Oh how grateful I am for the generosity of Tom Moore, General Manager at Hampton Inn and Suites-Myrtle Beach-Oceanfront for blessing us with such beautiful accommodations and gracious hospitality. We highly recommend them to you and your family.
It has been a great summer, and I am grateful.
Funnies from the Road:
At a recent women's ministry event, one of the women was telling me she did not think I looked my age. In response to her gracious compliment, a darling teenage girl said she saw me come in and thought I was off of the show "Golden Girls." Seriously, there are no words.
As I was seated on the front row of a large Baptist church in town, where I was asked to sing for a very dear family friend's funeral, I had just popped a lemon head in my mouth, thinking I had an entire choir anthem before it was my turn to sing. As I was looking at the program, I noticed no one was moving. The realization then hit me that the congregational hymn and choir anthem had been switched, and to my horror, both the pianist and minister of music were staring at me. It was when the minister of music gave me a nod that I realized that the silence that now seemed like an eternity meant I was supposed to be singing right then. As I walked up the stairs, made my way to the piano and began to play the introduction to the song I was to sing, I was also attempting to hide the fact that I was trying to chew up and swallow said lemon head! It's a bit of a challenge to sing with a lemon head tucked away in your cheek. And talk about saliva! I could just envision my college professor shaking his head in heaven at me with his patient smile.
A Note from Allison
I'm going to be very transparent and honest today and in doing so challenge myself and hopefully you. As a mom of little ones it's always hard to get some time alone or to do anything just for me. One of those few moments come when I go to the gym. I enjoy it! I like feeling stronger, happier, better, healthier. I get an hour to myself without anyone needing anything from me. I'm grateful for the childcare workers that allow me this time! But I make this happen, multiple days a week on a fairly regular schedule. I make the gym a priority. For my mental and physical well being I need to. I hate when I can't make it, or even worse when I have an injury and I have to stay away and rest. Now, I have been mentally struggling lately concerning my devotion/Bible reading/prayer time. Really just feeling guilty for my lack of regularity and commitment to making this happen. Finding quiet time to have a quiet time is hard with little ones, God gives so much grace, He knows this season of life. These are all the things I keep telling myself, and yes, they are all true. But early the other morning I was sitting in the quiet, dark nursery around 6:30 nursing Ryan (now 4.5 months old) and I opened the Bible app on my phone for the first time in months, months I tell you. And about 2 seconds later I was trying to pick my feet up as the word of God was stepping all up on my toes. The verse for the day, staring right there at me was 1 Timothy 4:8, "Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." I so quickly thought about the importance I place on going to the gym and the commitment I have to that part of my day, and the lack of discipline I have for reading the Word. It challenged me to put as much commitment to training myself for godliness as I do into physical training. I know that as I strengthen myself spiritually other aspects of my life will begin to improve. My love for others, my joy, kindness as a mom and wife, self control, and on and on. So here I am, asking God for His help to strengthen my commitment and dedication to spending time with Him. Maybe I should read my bible at the gym, now there's a thought!