Back to the Heart of Christmas

I hear myself singing a familiar song, in the middle of the night, in my dreams. I’m singing the lyrics to the popular song, “Have a holly jolly Christmas…” but you wouldn’t recognize it because the melody is different than the one you’re used to. In my dream, I’ve turned the happy melody into something more melancholy.

I feel as if that’s kind of become my brand in my “awake” life—my unwanted brand. I take happy things and make them sad. Or at least point out the sad. I guess it makes sense to do it in my dreams too.I suddenly wake up, the melody and lyrics fresh on my mind. Was I really dreaming? I get up to write down my ideas. It’s rather unusual for me to be singing in my dreams. Maybe this is something special so I better pay attention.

I usually go to the piano when I hear a melody and lyric, but since my piano is next door in my studio and it’s the middle of the night, I dig through the drawer looking for a piece of paper. 
I scribble my ideas on a piece of paper, drawing little lines that go up and down across the page representing the melody so that I’ll remember it in the morning. As it turns out, when I revisit the idea, it’s the harmony I have actually noted. 

I start to finish the song a few days after the dream…(at least I thought I finished it)

Here’s one fo the early drafts:

Have a holly jolly Christmas

Have a holly jolly Christmas

you can hear the music play

but as time goes on, on and on 

Christmas doesn’t look the same each year

I go wandering ’round in a circular world 

that doesn’t know where to end

in the midst of the lights

twinkling bright

where do you belong, Jesus?

Show me the way back to the heart of Christmas

help me to see all that you meant it to be

I want to see youI want to know you better

show me the way, show me the way to You

All the family now is gathered

they have come from far and near

but the pain inside cannot hide

Christmas has its disappointing times

in the back of our minds

mem’ries there to remind

things are not as you wish

and in the midst of the tears

shed through the years, you wonder

where do I belong, Jesus? (Chorus)


Christmas is meant to be joyful

Christmas is meant to bring peace

but just like the story of so long ago

where things don’t turn out just right

Children lose their lives

royal men still lie

and families run for their life (A husband baby and wife)

still this prayer I offer you tonight

Show me the way….

I take this song to my manager (as well as many other Christmas songs I am writing) and his critique is consistent with what I’ve heard before. “Even your funny songs have an intensity to them,” he says, in reference to a non-holiday song I wrote called “Personalities.” Sigh. I’ve asked for constructive critique because I want to improve as a songwriter. So now I have to receive it, right? 

I thought you might enjoy seeing my notes I wrote after he listened to Back to the Heart of Christmas.

I love the part where he asks, “Who’s the kids getting killed?”

Or the part where he says the bridge is too l long and introduces a whole new line of thought. I see what he means once he points it out. A bridge should simply carry us from one thought to another without building a whole new road. It should take us over the water, not muddy it. 

In the broader story of the Nativity, other babies died, a King lied and the parents of Jesus had to run for their lives. So in this case, I felt the bridge in the song could help remind us all that life isn’t perfect, especially at Christmas. Sad is mixed in with happy, even in the Nativity. But in my desire to “set the world straight” I tend to try to say too much. 

I’ve had to learn to stay focused on the one thing the song is about and not try to solve all the problems of life in just three minutes. 

It took me decades to understand my own yearning for perfect holidays. To discover that much of it was tied to the fact that we didn’t have perfect holidays as a family. We were not a complete unit. We had lost people along the way and it was extra hard at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Just as my disheartened soul went through some healing and mindset shifts about the holidays, coupled with a better self-awareness of why I struggled with the holidays, the song also evolved. I wrote a much simpler bridge…

Help me to be like a child at heart

open my life to your love

setting aside the distractions of life

that keep me from the greatest gift of all

Of course, in my case, the distractions were grief and loneliness. They come in all shapes and sizes.

I started sharing the song (the re-written version) with audiences at Christmas events. Many times people would ask if I had a recording of that song. I knew that was a good sign. 

All of these years later, after putting it on the album, keeping it in the annual show, I still feel the magic every time I sing it. 

Updated version of the song in this video.

Lions, Tigers and Uh Ohs

I knew that I’d face some extra challenges this year when I sat down to plan Portraits of White because of COVID 19.  I was hoping that by December the pandemic would be a thing of the past. As we all know, it’s not. 

So in addition to the regular lions, tigers and bears I usually encounter as we get close to the show, I’ve had to face a new monster this year. 

I decided to approach it with a little bit of humor…

Cues and Shoes

 “Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet?” the young cashier asks the shopper a few cash registers over from me. 

“Yes,” the customer replies confidently.

I try to mind my own business as I pay for my groceries. It’s not my conversation but I somehow feel like it could be. 

It’s only November 5, I think to myself.

The determined cashier continues. “Well then, are you ready for Christmas?” It feels to me as if she’s now trying to one-up the shopper.

“I don’t do Christmas—too many expectations,” the customer says, loud enough that everyone can hear her. I try to keep my head down and resist making eye contact.

Secretly, I admire her and I smile to myself. She isn’t rude or obnoxious, but she clearly lets us know (because we’re all listening aren’t we?) where she lands when it comes to Christmas. And now it feels as if it’s a public conversation.

I decide in that moment to turn around and look at the person who is being interrogated, as if to let her know that I acknowledge her and can appreciate the position she’s just been put in. Someone needs to acknowledge her discomfort…at least with a nod or a smile. 

We all get it. Whether it’s expectations, loneliness, grief, lack of money or time, weariness in coming up with what to get someone, dread of dragging out all of the decorations, we all have buttons that get pushed during the holidays or in this case, the weeks leading up to the holidays.

I stand there feeling conflicted. While I feel sorry for the customer, I also appreciate that the cashier is just trying to be engaging. Sometimes we ask questions just to be friendly. They aren’t good questions, or timed well, but we ask anyway. Perhaps that’s what’s happening here.

When I turn to see if I can catch the eye of the disgruntled lady, to acknowledge her strong feelings, I’m a little surprised. Her hair is done perfectly, make up looks great. She’s quite beautiful for Friday afternoon grocery shopping. I don’t know what I am expecting to see but she looks very put together (talk about expectations.) I expect her to look…disheveled…old…something…I don’t know…  

She is giving me a gift. She is giving me courage…hope. A small dose of encouragement reminding me of why I do Portraits of White. I need some of this kind of medicine at this point in the marathon.

In fact, as I get ready to post this week’s video, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to change it, throw it out,  re-do it because I am letting you see me when I’m not feeling very organized. And this was before the grocery store drama. Her honesty gives me the courage to keep the video “as-is.”

I’ve called this week’s post Cues and Shoes because one of the stressful parts of doing the show is figuring out the lighting cues. I know, you’re probably thinking to yourself…REALLY? Our world has been turned upside down and you’re stressing over lights?

Then there are the shoes. Somehow I was born without a hint of an arch in both feet and I have giant-sized bunions—much like my mother had. It’s always been hard to find pretty yet comfortable shoes for the stage, and it only seems to get worse with age. 

One year after the show, my feet hurt so bad I couldn’t walk out to greet everyone. I finally figured out it was just easier if I went without shoes, so I walked out in the lobby, shoeless and it felt wonderful.

In the scheme of things, the shoes are a small part of the stress, but every little bit adds up, as you know.  And though I don’t actually run the lights during the show, I have to make sure that those who do are well prepared for every little detail. Spot on Doug, spot on Wayne, Frances at the piano, Frances in the center, George on timpani, Tim on a stool, trumpet feature…..Frances tripping over her dress. Oh I hope not! LOL! 

Similar to all of these show details, the expectations that come with the holidays can start with tiny things but when combined, they can add up to stress. Where to spend the holidays…when to have the dinner…what to serve for dinner…what gift to buy….And some people, like the shopper lady have decided they just don’t “do” the holidays anymore.  

Then there’s the lingering pandemic. We’re all weary of what this has done to our lives. I see the strain on your faces as I’m out doing concerts. I read your notes that tell me of the crises you are facing personally. My heart breaks for you. 

 I don’t know who that lady at the grocery store is, but thanks to her outburst, I found the courage to keep running this last leg of the race of Portraits of White. I know it will be worth it. I’ve been preparing, practicing, pondering, stressing…all of it. But I’m ready for December 10 and 12.  

I can’t wait to see you and finish this Christmas show marathon with you by my side. (Even if I end it in my bare feet.) 


I’ve answered all kinds of Portraits of White fan questions this summer. This one made me feel furry, fuzzy and a bit…well…cattywampus.

“Do you ever consider using dogs or cats in Portraits of White?”

Just to be sure, I looked up the word cattywampus. I believe it fits this week’s video purrrrrfectly.

Definition – askew, awry, kitty-corner. Cattywampus is a variant of catawampus, another example of grand 19th century American slang. In addition to “askew” catawampus may refer to “an imaginary fierce wild animal,” or may mean “savage, destructive.”

My cats would like you to paws for a moment of fun and watch THEIR video.