Area churches are partnering with WILLow LeaVes of Hope this winter season to bring a blended service, The Cross, to our community.

The first one is scheduled for this Sunday, Jan. 14th from 6 to 7 p.m. followed by one on the second Sunday in February and in March. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. which will give those attending an opportunity to talk, grab a drink & a snack, and look around the store.

Dale Sechrest will lead music with the help of band members Mark Fisher, vocals & bass guitar, Tony Garrison, drums, Mark Neafus, lead guitar, Avery Tallent, vocals & guitar, vocalists Marissa Fisher, Sharron Harker, & Brandy Walters, and sound technicians Ben Cleland & Pat Walters. In addition, Dale will deliver a short sermon.

Dale recently shared a story with me, and I requested and received permission to share it with our readers. I suspect it will inspire a similar Christmas story from each of us.

"A Christmas That Always Plucks A Special Chord Within Me"

Oh, the hours my little brother and I would spend pouring over the pages of a Sears & Roebuck Christmas Catalog. We would spy out the newest G.I. Joe, Hot Wheels, Johnny West, and.... But, there was one particular year we focused our attention on drums.

It was 1972; I was the wise age of 14 and was in love with drums. Secretly, what I liked most about them were the sparkles. Every drum set in those catalogs had sparkles all over the toms. There were silver stars set amongst deep blue or firehouse red, just amazing to look at! I suspect my eyes twinkled while my heart rate increased while looking at them.

My parents, aware of my inner desire to be the next Ringo Starr, walked with me into our local music store. With Christmas songs blazing away, there were big kids and little kids dreaming of a Christmas morning with the desired instrument of their choice. One entire wall was filled with guitars. But, in a room all to itself, I saw the drums! My dad and I immediately set our course and worked our way through the maze of people, shelves, music stands, and other useless paraphernalia of music related obstacles.

There they were just like in the catalog, silver rimmed and blue or red colored drum sets with sparkles. Cymbals attached to the toms were proof that these were the real deal, big-time sets! I slowly ran my left hand around the outer edge of the snare, being careful not to touch the head as I didn't want to stain the beautiful skin. I looked up at my dad, and he was just as enthralled!

With a large smile on his face, he asked, "Is that the one you like?"

I managed to get out a nod and a faint, "yea."

But mother, she was nowhere to be found in that drum room! No, she was visiting the south wall which had the hanging guitars. I was thinking it was a good place for them, hanging on that wall; I had no desire to take one down. In my mind, there was just no way I would play one of those things when I could be vibing with a drum set.

She called to me, "Dale, what do you think of these?"

"I don't" was my reply from the other side of the building.

She continued, "Why don't you come over and take a look at these guitars?"

"Because, I don't want a guitar; I want a drum set!"

She wouldn't give up. From a mile away, she was continuing her attempt to get me over there with the guitars.

"Just come here and run your fingers over the strings of this one," she smiled. She then added, "You'll never be the same!"

It was as if she thought her smile and encouragement would draw me away from the blue sparkling three tom drum set with two cymbals and plastic tipped wooden drum sticks. After an hour of her coaxing, I grew a bit tense and felt it necessary to stress my position.

"I DON'T WANT a guitar, Mom!"

My dad chimed in, with an aggravated tone which still echoes in my mind today, "HE DOESN"T WANT a guitar honey! He wants a DRUM. The boy wants a drum set!"

My dad was on my side! He had a heart for music and knew my desire for a musical instrument that would accompany my singing of "Heart and Soul," "Back Home Again," "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and maybe some Alice Cooper. I had spent months practicing the theme song from Hawaii Five-O on the bottom of a Kentucky Fried Chicken container which I had asked my grandma to keep for me after cleaning. It was round, looked like a drum, and worked. But, it was not a real drum set!

The three of us left the music store without my mother visiting the drum room and without me strumming a guitar!

Christmas was three weeks away. I searched the house in vain looking for a hidden drum set. Every day after school, my younger brother, Steven, and I would search the house from top to bottom to no avail.

One gloomy day, I remember the skies being more gray than usual as we climbed off the bus. I told Steven, "Something ominous is about to happen; I can see it in the skies!"

He pushed me through the front door, and we started tearing up the house looking for gifts. I entered the laundry room. In the northwest corner, not too well hidden while tucked between the washer and the wall, there was a white bed sheet covering something. It did not resemble a drum set! The shape of it looked more like a guitar case. Steven and I stared at the sheet-covered item for half an hour before finally reaching out to uncover it.

"Yep," I expressed as I heaved a big sigh-"It's a guitar."

My thoughts went everywhere. Maybe it's not for me; maybe it's for Steven; maybe a neighbor asked my parents to keep it for their kids. But, we lived in the country, and the nearest neighbor was ten miles away. (It made trick-or-treating very challenging, but that's another story!)

Steven dryly commented, "You got a guitar, brother."

The realization then set in that I was not going to get the blue sparkling three tom drum set with two cymbals and plastic tipped wooden drum sticks; I was getting a guitar. I didn't even bother to open the case to look at it; I just covered it back up with the sheet and pathetically carried myself out of the laundry room.

With an afternoon of cartoons and cereal, a guy can forget a lot of things when he submerges himself in Popeye and Cap'n Crunch.

The next day after school, there was no need to tear through the house anymore. I slowly walked into the laundry room hoping that the guitar case had magically changed into a drum set, but, even though it was the season of miracles, I was still getting a guitar.

I tossed back the bed sheet, saw the black cardboard guitar case and muttered, "Yep, it's a guitar."

I did this for a week. Every day after school, I would go and draw back the sheet, look at the case, and cover it up again. Then, something strange happened! I can't explain it to this day. For some reason, I got to where I would look forward to walking into that utility room and gazing at the guitar case for a minute or two before covering it back up.

The week before Christmas, I built up enough nerve to unlatch the top of the case just so I could see the tuning keys. I knew I shouldn't and couldn't take it out of the case. It was enough just seeing those keys; however, by the end of the week, I decided to unlatch more clasps on the case so I could run my fingers across the strings one time. It was a beautiful and magnificent sound!

By the time Christmas morning came, I couldn't wait to take it out of the case. I played on it without knowing how to play for hours and into the evening, me and my Kay acoustic guitar. In the coming months, I would put on 45 rpm records, listen for two seconds, and then try to imitate the sound on my guitar. Months went by with me taking the needle off the record, putting it back on, and then repeating the pattern. My parents never once complained about the noise or only hearing a second of a song over and over!

As I continue to reflect on that Christmas years ago, I think about the number of times I have played my guitar and many songs and how that special gift has helped me through the ups and downs of my journey. My mother was right! Dad and I, difficult to persuade at times, grew accustomed to her wisdom. But then, my mother was always a praying woman. So, she knew, before I did, what I needed! May we receive in 2018 what our soul needs and not necessarily what we think we may want.