Author: Iris Carignan

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Walking in His Mercies

For many years, I’ve enjoyed the solitude of walking my dog in the cool of the evening or the dewy wet sparkle of a crisp morning. It is often a time of inspiration and introspection for me. But tonight as I walked, my heart was ladened with another kind of dampening—news of another school shooting. And contemplation of this current horrific event reminded me of another such day about twelve years ago. At that time our country was reeling from the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting where 6 adults and 20 children died.

I remembered how it had been a cool winter morning when I was out walking and praying with a heavy heart about the Sandy Hook shooting. I had stopped short at a neighbor’s driveway as she was returning home. She was about to drive up her steep driveway, but stopped abruptly, reversed her car, and set the brakes so she could retrieve the newspaper. Then she noticed me. Leaning out the car window for a chat, we began sharing our thoughts on the terrible event of that day. Although we rarely had the opportunity to visit, it had been a rough week for her and the accurate timing of being at her driveway at that moment seemed to be ordained. My neighbor, who has two small children, was especially feeling the burden of that tragedy. Added to it was an extra dose of sadness with the loss of her dog that week. I was glad for the opportunity to be a shoulder of comfort at that moment. After talking for about fifteen minutes, we said our goodbyes and I started to recommence my walk. 

“Are you going to walk behind my car?” she halted me. “You should probably wait” she said “ as sometimes the car rolls down a bit before going up this steep driveway.” 

I had already considered being cautious while walking behind the vehicle, but hadn’t thought it a danger since she was well aware of my presence. However, I decided to heed her warning and waited for her car to go up the hill first. It was a good thing I did, as it turned out her large SUV was still in reverse and when she hit the gas to go up, the car went careening DOWN into the street. If I had walked behind her car, both my dog and I would have suffered severe injury and possibly death.  

I stood there in awe of my Lord’s protective mercies. He had clearly spoken through my neighbor who is a believer as well. 

We never know when or where peril may lie for any of us and it’s hard to fathom the evil that leads someone to take the lives of little children. But Proverbs 2:7-8 promises that our God “guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him.”

If your heart is ladened with sorrow of any kind, I encourage you to take a stroll in the cool of the summer evening and let God fill you with the sweet breath of His word, love, and care no matter what you’re going through. You might want to also meditate on Psalm 119:105, which says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path.” If you have a prayer request that you’d like me to bring to God, please let me know in simple terms in the comments here.         

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A Little Jesus on the Side

How many times have you ordered a wonderful entrée at a restaurant, then as the waitress pivots to walk away you add: “and a little Ranch on the side, please,” or_______ (fill in the blank)? I wonder if sometimes I treat my daily walk of faith a little like that. Instead of savoring a hearty spiritual meal of quality time with the Lord that will sustain me throughout my day, I order my day by diving into my chores first. Then, sometime later, when a problem comes along, I tack on a quick prayer like a side-dish, hoping it’ll make the mess I’ve created, taste more palatable. Yet, we scratch our heads and wonder why our day went so badly—why we didn’t accomplish anything of eternal value? Greater still, is the frightening possibility of coming to the end of our days with a life that was mostly void of true spiritual fruit. 

I’ve always thought one of the hardest scriptures to swallow comes in Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus says, “…Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And I will say to them. I never knew you, depart from me.” Whoa! There’s a bone to choke on. Just think! Jesus was talking about people who were doing amazing miracles in His name, yet He said He never knew them. It has me examining my own life. Could I possibly be one of those people? Just to be clear, I read further in the text looking at the verses before and after it and I see some clarification. In the verse before it, Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heavenbut he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  And reading afterwards in verse 24 it says, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 

Whew! I relax a bit now. I see that He’s saying that a true believer is one who not only claims to be Christian they live-out their faith by doing what God’s word instructs. They apply God’s word to their life and actions in every way which produces spiritual fruit. Or as it also says in verse 20, “therefore by their fruits you will know them.” However, after a brief sigh of relief, contemplation returns with new heartfelt palpitations for its’ application. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus is reminding me to give Him more of myself each day. Then He will know me as a friend knows another friend, because we will share our Spirits intimately with one another. 

Being someone who claims Jesus as my savior, yet many times only lets Him have a small portion of me, or a little Jesus on the side, hits hard with conviction. Time to fall on my knees.

No matter how we slice the sweet pie of God’s word, it often includes an intriguing ingredient that stirs our hearts to dig deeper into our own soul. But, like that tasty side dish, when we slather the sweet presence of God over the entire main course of our day, and life, instead of a little on the side, everything does become more palatable.  And as is says in Psalm 34:8, “…Taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Do you have a verse that stirs you to ponder it deeply? Tell me about it in the comments here.


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Iris Carignan - Published author, award-winning artist, inspirational speaker, and poet.
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SPIRIT OF THE CROSS

Did you ever have a creative inspiration for something that is so clear and urgent you can hardly get to it fast enough? That’s what I was sensing one Good Friday morning a few years ago. It was mostly an inkling of a picture in my mind at first, but there was an excitement brewing under the surface of a nudge inside of me. So, I began.  

I started sketching it with loose strokes in pastel paint on paper first but quickly stopped. A sudden and sure confidence, for the image that I knew I was supposed to paint, had entered in. Grabbing a large canvas on hand, I switched the medium from pastel to oil and began laying in bright colors. A mood quickly spoke into the piece with joy that permeated my inner prompting. This was clearly going to be another one of a handful of paintings that were inspired by God. 

Beginning at the top of the canvas I laid in some bright coral color and then streaked through it with a wide brush, loaded with white paint. Pulling the brushstrokes in a slanted angle downward, I created the effect of light shining on something. That “something” quickly took the form of a cross that was revealed with colors around every part of its shape. Instead of painting the cross, I painted the angles and soft lines of the outside of the form revealing the cross shape with the white of the canvas. I would paint the cross afterwards. It’s what is called painting the negative shape. Then I lightly filled-in the color of the cross with a very pale shade of yellowish white giving the edges an impressionistic softness. I let the wet paint set a minute. It was about then when a special creative force took over. It’s something that has happened to me only a few times in all the years of my painting. 

It’s hard to explain, but for a few rare instances, this has happened and when it does, I can barely keep up with what the Spirit is telling me to paint. Working as fast as I could, wasn’t fast enough for the inspiration that was driving me. Each brushstroke seemed to direct me ahead of time as to what it would be and where it would go in the design. It seemed that the painting was directing me to do what it wanted to do. I started placing bright colored shapes in different sizes of pinks, reds, blues, and yellows all around the lower part of the canvas and up near the cross shape.

Before I knew it the 30” X 40” canvas was filled with a glorious image of a white cross, surrounded by an array of colorful tulips and daisies. I stood back and drank in the image, contemplating whether-or-not it needed something else. It took only a brief moment to know what to do next. I painted the cross with a sheer white paint on top of the semi-dry pale yellow, creating a translucent and almost ethereal effect. Then I put subtle little white flowers on top of the arms and center of the cross letting them overflow into the colorful pink, red, blue, and yellow flowers that surrounded it. But something was missing. 

I stood back again and considered the overall balance, composition, colors and meaning that was before my eyes. With so many different flowers springing forth from my imagination onto the canvas, just one more was needed—an Iris flower. Adding a purple and yellow Iris, my namesake, I painted it in the only place it rightfully belonged—at the foot of the cross.  

Standing back for my final critique, I raised my brush-filled-hands in praise to the one who inspired it, then contemplated what the title should be. Noting once more how the little white flowers seemingly flowed out of the cross, I felt the painting’s message was that the spirit of the cross was becoming new life. Thus the title, “Spirit of the Cross”

Now, as another Easter draws near, I find myself thinking about what the image means to me and what the cross means to all who seek redemption. I pray that all of you will let God’s Holy Spirit fill you with His light and life wherever you are in your journey of faith.

Please share your Easter praises in a comment on this page.

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Painting a Picture of Hope

Beginnings— So important! How many of them do we get in life? For some it may feel like they’ve only had a few, at least when it comes to good beginnings. Or perhaps they had some good starts, but each time it felt that way, something pulled the rug out from under them and they either started all over again or gave up. 

Recently I had the blessing of teaching an art class to a few ladies at a transitional home where many of the residents have had terrible beginnings in every way possible. Most have struggled through recent trials that brought homelessness. Whatever their case, these ladies are strong and courageous in so many ways and with the help of the wonderful people at Gabriel’s House, they find strength, encouragement, help and hope for a better more stable beginning to life. So, teaching a few of them how to paint—though minuscule compared to the many hours of love and work the staff pours into them— was a blessing and a new beginning for me too. 

Several months before I began the class, God had nudged me with a phrase I’d heard that caught my ear and heart—”you can’t erase crayon”. (You may have read my blog with that title a few months ago). When I got a call from my friend Yvonne Nobblit asking if I’d be interested in teaching an art class to some of the ladies at Gabriel’s House, I was overjoyed with the opportunity to use my gifts for God’s purposes. And with that call, I knew immediately why that phrase had caught my attention. It was because the phrase is such a profound metaphor for all the things that get colored into our hearts—good things and not so good things, colorful things and dark terrible things that don’t go away. But it was especially about the things that can be embedded onto a young child’s heart. Those things are hard to erase. They never go away.

I thought about how life is so like that at times. We may have some new colorful and joyful thing currently happening in our life, but the waxy injuries of some experiences stubbornly resist going away—refuse to be covered up or erased. No, they continue to bleed through even the brightest spots. And as an artist, I also knew that the waxy properties of crayon made it a medium that resists and repels just about any other kind of paint you try to put over it. It’s much like so many people whose emotional and physical pain in childhood continues to plague their hearts and lives, repelling even the good things when they do come along.

Thankfully my life has mostly been beautiful and blessed, so, I wondered why I was still thinking about this paradox three weeks after hearing it? Why was a gal like me, (one with a relatively easy life compared to so many), still thinking about not being able to erase crayon? More importantly, was God placing it in my heart for His good purposes?  I wondered. Then I got that call from Yvonne about teaching an art class at Gabriel’s House and I knew. 

I knew that maybe, just maybe, God wanted to use me to paint some new colors into the lives of women with waxy dark colors on their hearts. 

So, knowing they couldn’t afford to buy any art supplies, I began to gather some. I already had much of what I’d need and a couple of friends generously donated some paint and brushes too, but getting table easels was a challenge. An art store gave me a discount on a few supplies, but naturally didn’t offer any easels. The cheapest they had were priced at nearly $90 and I needed four or five. I prayed about it asking who else I should approach for that need. Then God nudged me to ask a nice gal named Alisa who owns the Frame Gallery in Agoura. Since she sold to lots of artists like me, I thought maybe she might know an artist that had easels they aren’t using anymore. Turns out she didn’t, but she herself had a bunch of them that had been given to her about 10 years ago and she was happy to let me have them all for the class.

Isn’t it amazing how God arranges things like that for us way-in-advance of when we need them? And as my Frame gallery friend, Alisa, said: “It was truly a God thing.”

After a few delays in starting the class, the day finally arrived. Just 3 students out of the 5 we’d planned on, but I was excited. The following weeks brought a few stops and starts to attendance and we all learned a little about keeping their attention over the five-week period. For some it was about learning commitment, and some just needed to let themself learn without expecting perfection. For others, a job called them away from the fun— a good thing. One of the gals seemed to enjoy every minute of it and she and I became quick friends sharing the blessings of creative inspirations.  

Using paintbrushes loaded with bright and beautiful colors—and sometimes a little too much paint— their attention to the picture they were painting became a new focus—a focus away from troubles. For a few hours on each of those Saturday afternoons, they began a new journey that had a new start on something that held promise. 

But here’s the most astonishing thing to me— when I chose the subject we’d paint, I truly hadn’t considered the deep symbolism that would be created. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until this very moment of writing this blog, 3/21/22, (two weeks after class ended), that it occurred to me how breathtakingly fitting that picture was for their lives. The picture I helped them paint was a scene of trees alongside a rugged road, with mountains in the distance. It was a clear metaphor that represented their lives. The deep purple and blue shadows that were cast across the road, were meaningful reminders of all the shadows on their rugged road through life, yet their dark contrast against the bright colors of the soft grasses in the foreground are beautiful brushstrokes of hope and promise. And the big mountains of trouble look small since they are in the distance and behind them now. And, ironically, until this moment I didn’t know WHY, I had decided, for the first time in my 40 years of painting, that we’d paint it in a style similar to that of Vincent Van Gogh— an artist who we know struggled much in his life. But I’m pretty sure God knew why. 

And much like learning to paint, creating a stable & happy life takes time, help from the Master Creator, help from the hands and feet of Jesus, and good tools. But mostly, it takes the promising hope of God’s word painted over waxy sins with the crimson color of Jesus’ sacrifice.  So, I pray that the time we had together painted some new and hopeful colors into their hearts. Bright colors that will last with brushstrokes that help bring a bright new beginning for those ladies. I know it did for me. 

Have you ever done something creative that was helpful to your emotions in a lasting and good way? Tell me about it in the comments here.

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Being Grateful in the Bad

How many times do I have to tell you…? Sound like echoes from your mother or father? How about your heavenly father? Well, don’t know about you, but God still has to remind me of some things over and over. Recently (and for the fifth time), I was locked out of my own website. Frustrated and angry, I slammed close my computer, got up, and paced the floor wondering if my computer problems would ever cease. After my husband and I battled numerous health issues for a year, the tech problems that kept piling on, were adding insult to injury. “I just don’t get it Lord!” shot out of my mouth. Be thankful whispered back. I stopped short, with realization hitting hard. I hadn‘t remembered to “praise God in all things (I Thess. 5:18).” Never mind He’d taught me that lesson many times before, I hadn’t taken my own advice, or as they say, practiced what I’d preached to audiences. It hit me with a stinging blow. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten to be grateful in the bad—again.

I’ve often heard people say: “Satan must be really worried about the work you’re doing for God, and that’s why you are having so many troubles.” I wasn’t buying that. Then again, I couldn’t help thinking it was technology demons that were snacking on every aspect of my life. Of course, I knew annoying technology problems weren’t unusual, but ours had been a relentless barrage of issues—computer malware (4 experts to fix), loss of all my photos, and now I was locked out of my own website. AGAIN! Then there’s the other kind of tech problems we’d had— a broken ice maker (needed for icing husband’s post-surgery & my painful arthritic big toe). Oh, and did I mention not having cable TV or Wi Fi service for a month as we recovered and couldn’t do much else? I was going bananas. And the cherry on top came when I’d tried to print 100 copies of our Christmas letter and without internet, the printer had shut down. I’d been forced to make photocopies of a less than perfect version. 

Now, three weeks later and into the new year, tech problems were still plaguing us, so another cable guy was coming to fix the TV/Wifi problem. And that’s when it finally dawned on me— I hadn’t thanked God for our recent problems. So, I bowed my head the morning of this next appointment and thanked God for all of them (including the cable and internet issues). Then I prayed: “Lord, if there is something you want us to do or say to be a light to this next cable guy, use us for your purposes.”

You’ll never guess what happened next.

That afternoon, when the cable guy arrived, both my husband and I sensed something was a little off with him. We calmly explained what the problem was, then let him get to work. A short while later he proudly announced he’d figured out what the cause was and had fixed it. I suggested we go into our home office to be sure the internet service was working now too. Sure enough, all seemed to be operating again. Then, as if proving it, the printer suddenly kicked-in and started printing out the 100 copies I’d initiated three weeks earlier. Talk about timing.

“Guess you’ll just have to make 50 new friends.” Cable guy joked and we all laughed. 

“Here,” I said, handing one of the letters to him, “this one’s for you!”

He began reading then asked: “Did you write this?”

“Yes. It was our Christmas letter.” I told him with a smile.

He read a little further then asked: “Where do you go to church? I’ve been looking for one.”

We told him. Then, to our amazement, he started telling us about his struggles, what he was going through and how God had been working in his life. “I finally realized that I needed to let God be in charge,” he admitted, “because I don’t got it!” 

We listened graciously, then I told him about the prayer I’d made for him that very morning.

“This was a divine appointment!” He declared with a broadening smile.

“Yes. It truly was.” I agreed. Needless-to-say, I was giddy with joy at how God had used gratefulness in the midst of our troubles to minister to someone else in the middle of theirs. (Not to mention our TV and internet service was restored). Another lesson well learned. Hopefully God won’t have to remind me again to Praise Him in “All things.”

It’s easy to thank God for the good things that happen, but not so easy when everything seems to be going wrong. Yet, more and more I’ve come to realize that being grateful in ALL THINGS, gives wings to God’s blessings and purposes. Do you have a “thankful in the bad” story? Tell me about it in the comments on this blog page. 

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Poetry

FLOWERS AND FRUITS

This poem came to my heart early this morning, but I didn’t know until I got further into it, that it was about a friend from church. When a new poem or a song comes to my heart, I know I must listen and obey the nudge to write it down immediately, even though I usually don’t know how it will end or where it will take me. As soon as I realized it was about someone I knew at church, it took on new speed and clarity.

For most of my life, I have prayed that God would make me fruitful for him. As I’ve matured and grown, one thing I have learned is that being fruitful for God isn’t something I can do on my own. It can only come from drawing close to God. In the same way that a fruit doesn’t stress and strain to come forth, it can only happen if it has the seed within. So, too, we need the “seed” of God’s Holy Spirit within us in order to produce godly fruit. And in John 15, the word tells us: “if we abide in Him and He abides in us, we will bear much fruit.”

Recently that friend passed away. She was someone who always abundantly manifested good fruit–LOVE, JOY, PEACE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS AND FAITHFULNESS. And though she’s gone from our presence, the fruit she bore for Christ will continue long after as a fragrant reminder of the work of the Holy Spirit that was within her.

Her name was Caroline. And though you may not have ever met this friend of mine, I hope it will be an inspiration that plants God’s seed within you, so you can also bear much fruit. And as you read, you may notice that God inspired me to point out that all fruit begins with a flower. That was something I’d never considered when regarding fruit, yet God inspired it into the poem. Having the name Iris (a flower), it encouraged me. May it be a fragrant flower to your day and encourage you in your lifelong journey too.

FLOWERS AND FRUIT       

The fruits of the Spirit

            Are revelations, oh God, of You.

Blooming first as flowers

            Whose strength comes from truth

Their bright colors blossom in different sizes and shapes, 

And open their petals first

Before the fruit they make.

Within the flower’s center lays an apple of love

 A green stone caressed by the soft petals’ glove.

Waiting to ripen fully,

Its’ juicy flavor tasted is truly

A blessing to others, I’m told.

When it becomes fruit of His Spirit

It’s a joy to behold. 

And as the fruit He created is evidenced and mature,

The Holy Spirit rejoices

That to others it becomes a lure.

Leading them to God

 His sweetness tasted by sisters and brothers.

Bringing praise and glory to Him also by others.

Our sister Caroline was a basket of fruit.

            Picked by so many

Both old and youth.

And though ladened with illness

On-up-to her end,

She bore fruit to many,

That eternity will extend.

Her blossoms still fragrant,

Linger in the air,

As we celebrate her life, while

Missing the fruit, she did bare.

Now resting in the fruit of peace

Her kindness and faithfulness,

Will continue and not cease.

by Iris Carignan

Please let me know if this poem touched you by making a comment on this blog page.

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God Speaks Through Signs

Temperatures are plummeting here in So Cal and seemed to have come down in sync with the Christmas decorations. The Holidays may be over, and it’s now January 2022, but like a winter scene on a picture postcard, the chilly weather triggered a Christmas memory.

I’d been shopping for the finishing touches to our Christmas dinner table, and as I’d pulled out of the shopping center parking lot that day, I saw a woman with a cardboard sign. Now, I’m not in the habit of always giving money to strangers, but her pleading eyes seemed to pierce through me with a strong a tug on my heart. “Perhaps I should stop and give her a few bucks,” I wondered, but it was an awkward stopping place, so I drove off.

With a pull still lingering within, I began to pray: “Lord, if you want me to give that lady some money, just give me a sign and I’ll turn around and go back.”  My answer came instantly through, of all places, my car radio: “She’s on the corner with a cardboard sign, and it’s tugging at your heart,” the song’s lyrics sang out a reply. Whoa! “If there’s a Guinness world record for quickly answered prayers, this has to be one.” I mused. And it couldn’t have been any clearer! By the time the shock of God’s instantaneous reply fully sank in, I was already at the freeway entrance and had to get on. But there was no denying that God had given me a very clear sign, one that spoke louder than the cardboard one I’d just seen. 

So, of course I got back off the freeway and went back to the woman with the sign. I was able to park nearby and as I leafed through the few dollars in my wallet thinking that $5 would be generous enough, all I found was two dollars, a handful of coins, and a twenty-dollar bill. Surely you don’t want me to give this stranger a twenty, I mumbled under my breath. A thought whispered back. “Are you really gonna miss it?” Telling myself it wasn’t His voice, probably just my conscience this time, I took out the two one-dollar-bills and all the change, then proceeded towards the lady with the sign. 

As I approached her, I noticed another woman nearby. “She’s my sister.” Victoria, the lady with the sign, explained. “We recently reconnected after many years. I handed her the two one-dollar-bills and fist full of coins and Victoria thanked me. We chatted some more and I learned they truly were homeless, not some pretenders like some I’ve seen, who drive away later in their expensive Mercedes. These ladies were living under a bridge and sleeping out in the cold.

I asked if they knew about all the homeless shelters in town including the one at our church and asked if they’d gone to any of them. “Not too often,” she said, “I have a lung condition and can’t be around some of the people that sleep in the homeless shelters, plus we have no means of transportation, so it makes it hard to get to many of them.” Victoria explained further. “But sometimes we attend the little church nearby named Conejo Church.” 

I knew the church well as it was pastored by Kirk DeWitt, the son of our founding Pastor Larry DeWitt. Another sign, I thought, then reached back into my wallet. I knew then that God was further confirming I was supposed to help these ladies out. 

Victoria’s face lit up with joy as I handed her a twenty dollar bill. “Now we can get a room at a hotel and not have to sleep out in the cold.” She exclaimed and I was humbled with her reminder that temperatures had plummeted into the 30’s that week too. Truly God wanted them to be protected from the cold elements and He’d given me clear direction through a cardboard sign, a song on the radio and a familiar church that is known for its’ heart for the homeless. Ironically, until that day I’d never heard that song before and haven’t heard it since, but I’m told it’s a real song and was written and performed by a man named Mathew West. So Mathew, if you see this story, know that God also used you mightily that day.  

God speaks to us in many ways. For me, it’s usually it’s through the Bible, but sometimes He speaks to our “inner” ear with His still quiet voice. Whatever way He chooses to speak to me this new year, I know I need to be listening and I hope you will too. In my speaking engagements I often talk about how we can listen with the ears of our heart. The poem here speaks to this concept and is included in my book Fresh Eyes: Seeing God in the UnexpectedAnd much like the kind of stories in that book, this story will likely wind up in my sequel to Fresh Eyes.  

Are you considering a meaningful New Year’s resolution? Why not ask God to improve your spiritual hearing, then listen for his voice. Tell me your listening story in the comments here and maybe I’ll use it my the next book.

An Unexpected Kiss

By Iris Carignan 1/28/15

Like the harmony that you hear

Inside your mind’s ear,

Is the voice that He does whisper, 

To the song of your heart so clear.

With sweet surprise

The thought arrives,

Not wanting to be missed.

A message He gives,

Like an unexpected kiss.

So listen close and don’t deny,

When His melodious word

Is given by and by.

He is the author of everyone’s song

The composer of your life.

And He knows of every joy 

And of every strife.

He hits the high notes and the low,

Every place your heart song goes.

And placing the notes of each measure 

Into proper time,

His voice with ours, together,

Can bring harmony, rhythm and rhyme.