". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Phases


Have you ever had that dream where you are back in school and realize you forgot to go to a class, not just once, but all semester long? And now it's time for the final exam and you aren't prepared?

Or maybe you've had the one where you have to give a speech and have no idea what it's supposed to be about or what you're going to say. Perhaps you aren't properly dressed or aren't dressed at all.

Or if you're a musician, maybe you, like I, have dreamed you forgot to practice for your upcoming recital. Recently when I woke up from that one it was so vivid I could recall the title of the piece I was supposed to play but didn't know. It was "Phases." Having no knowledge of such a piece I assumed I fabricated it. Imagine my surprise when my son, a concert pianist, told me there is an actual 20th-century work of similar title that requires the pianist to play two pianos at one time:



After learning about the composition "Piano Phase" I couldn't help wondering if maybe I heard about it somewhere along the way and it stuck in my brain because it turns out to be a fitting symbol for my life at the moment. In a development I would not have predicted a year ago I have been offered a full-time position as managing editor of a national online reporting site. It is the official news publication of my church body, The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. The job requires relocation to St. Louis, so in August, I will be taking up residence in an apartment there while my husband continues working at our church in Oklahoma. It is only about a 5-hour commute or short flight between the two locations, and while we know it won't be easy being apart at times, we are convinced that this is the right decision, one that will allow me to best use my abilities in the service of God, my neighbor, and my family.

After listening to a bit of "Piano Phase" I'm not sure what I think about it musically, but I can definitely relate to the image of playing two instruments at one time. In a few weeks I will have two homes. Right now I am getting ready to start a brand new phase of life, moving from many years of squeezing in part-time work around my full-time vocations of wife and homeschool mom to now making room for a full-time job as my empty nest years draw ever closer. I know that there will be many challenges in this transition, but I also anticipate much blessing. In my freelance work I have already gotten to know many of the people I will now be seeing on a daily basis, and it has been a joy. I am looking forward to making both the work and people a regular part of my life.

Sometimes in life it can seem like whatever you're doing today is going to be what you do forever. When you're a child, adulthood seems so far away it's hard to imagine. When you're in high school, facing all the difficulties of adolescence and school and peer pressure, it can feel like you'll never get beyond them. When you're single, you might wonder if you'll ever get married. When there are dirty diapers every time you turn around, it can be hard to envision life without them. When you're nursing a dying parent, you can't think beyond the next dose of food or medicine. When your life consists of a certain job, house, church or group of friends, it can seem impossible that it will ever be anything else.

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this, but I'm going to anyway. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing today, it's not always going to be that way. Maybe that is good news and maybe it's not. Maybe it's a little of both. Whatever the case, try to embrace what God has given you to do today, knowing that He is by your side, using all of it to bless and draw you closer to Him while He prepares your tomorrow. Whatever phase of life you're in, know that it's not forever. Take it as a gift, trust the Giver to sustain you through the bad parts, and expect blessing.


"Stay With Us" - Lutheran Service Book 879 from Cheryl on Vimeo.
"Stay With Us" - LSB 879

"Stay with us, till night has come:
Our praise to You this day be sung.
Bless our bread, Open our eyes:
Jesus, be our great surprise.

Walk with us, our spirits sigh:
Hear when our weary spirits cry,
Feel again Our loss, our pain:
Jesus, take us to Your side.

Walk with us, the road will bend:
Make all our weeping, wailing end.
Wipe our tears, Forgive our fears:
Jesus, lift the heavy cross.

Talk with us, till we behold
A joyful life You will unfold:
Heal our eyes To see the prize:
Jesus, take us to the light.

Stay with us, till day is done:
No tears nor dark shall dim the sun.
Cheer the heart, Your grace impart:
Jesus, bring eternal life."

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Golden Moments

Often we are told to "cherish" time, particularly at pivotal moments such as a wedding, the birth of a child, or the waning of a dear one's days. But what does that mean? How do we "cherish" time? Do we say over and over in our head, "Cherish, cherish, cherish, cherish"? Do we consciously try to pay more attention to what is going on than we normally would? Do we tell those around us to stop talking to us, needing us, and giving us things to do so that we can just bask in the moment at hand?

St. Luke wrote that Mary "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). I want to be like Mary, but I struggle with understanding what it means to "treasure" and "ponder." There seems to be little time for such luxuries. Life spins itself out, the moments come and go, and suddenly 20 years have passed.

Last weekend we visited the first parish my husband ever served as a full-time church musician, from 1993 to 2000. When we first moved there we had a 10-month-old baby (he's 24 now). A few years later we had our second child (now 21). During the seven years we were there we made many friends with whom we keep in touch to this day. The last time we visited was in 2009, yet when we returned last week it felt in a way as if we had never left. So many of the same faces remained, theirs, like ours, a little more lined, with eyes reflecting years of trial, pain and joy. I found myself wanting to cherish the moments. Who knows when we will see these people again? Several dear friends are now well into their nineties. If we don't make it back for another eight years, will they still be around?

I don't know how to cherish the moments. I only know how to live them. Yes, there are special times, golden moments we find ourselves wanting to hang on to. But we can't. And that's okay. Every moment we have is given to us by God, sanctified by Him for a sacred purpose. Whether it's a baptism, a wedding, or a dirty diaper, it's still a gift of time, a moment to be lived. The baby days are wonderful, but so are the years of parenting teenagers and young adults. Courtship is magical and young married life full of anticipation, but there's also something equally profound about being able to look back as a couple from the 30-year mark. Sometimes I look around and wish I could freeze time. Life is precious, and I don't want it to be over. I don't want to get old and leave this earth while my loved ones are still here doing awesome things. I want to be around for all of it.

And yet I know there is a golden moment ahead, one that will outshine all the others. When that one comes there won't be anything distracting me. I won't have to try to cherish it. It will be the brightest, most golden moment I could ever imagine, and it will go on forever.




"Now if all my golden moments could be rolled into one
They would shine just like the sun for a summer day
And after it was over, we could have it back again
With credit to the editor for striking out the rain, very clean
And all it really needed was the proper point of view."
(James Taylor, "Golden Moments")

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dreams and Memories

Weird dreams last night. First I dreamed that my mom was still alive and in a nursing facility. But when I called to talk to her on the phone they couldn't find her. Then I dreamed I was walking through the house and stepped on a child's toy. It was a little plastic figurine of the Pumbaa character from The Lion King. (We used to have one like it.) It went deep into my foot and got stuck. When I pulled it out skin and tendons came out with it and it left a hole big enough that I could see the bones in my foot. Strangely enough, it didn't bleed or hurt. I wasn't going to do anything about it until my husband suggested I might want to go to the doctor to get the hole stitched up. When I woke up we had just called the doctor but were having trouble getting an appointment.

Are the two dreams related? I don't know. I do know that I don't have a mother anymore, nor do I have children of the age to leave plastic toys lying around where I might step on them. Sigh.

I spent part of today going through some more of my mom's boxes. Odds and ends, collectibles, keepsakes. When my siblings came for my mom's funeral last year I was able to give them some things, but there was still more to be gone through. I have removed all the pictures from my mom's photo albums and sorted them the best I could. (It's hard sometimes to tell which baby it is in the pictures!) I have everyone's Christmas stocking from when we were growing up. These things will all be mailed as soon as I can finish packing the boxes.

I had another memory of my mom's last few days. When we brought her home, hospice care set up a hospital bed in her room. I slept in her bed in the same room so I could be with her if she needed anything, although by this point she was bedridden and mostly non-communicative. I remember waking up in the night and looking at her and finding her wide awake, watching me sleep. I suppose that's what I would do, too, if I knew death was imminent: stay awake and watch my daughter sleep in the bed next to me.

One of the hardest things about that last week was not ever knowing what she was thinking because she couldn't tell me.

I didn't mean for this to be a sad post. I am not sad. Or maybe I should say I am mostly happy. :-) My college kids are home. We have some great trips planned. Everyone is in good health, doing neat things, and the summer is stretched out before us. 

But I still miss my mom.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

Time for an odds and ends post.

Today was Evan's last official day to sing in the children's choir. His voice is changing. He still has soprano notes, although not as high as in the past, but he is developing his lower range and struggling with his mid-range. He will continue attending Schola Cantorum rehearsals through the end of the year, helping out our novice program (welcoming new young singers), but we have told him he doesn't have to sing with the choir any more after today. Seeing as how I don't have anyone waiting in the wings to take his place, it would seem my choir mom days are over (sigh).

Here are a couple of pics, serious and silly, of our group today. We sure do love them.



We were hoping one of the above pictured choristers would agree to sing the solo stanza of "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth" at the Good Friday service, but there have been no takers. Today when I told Evan that it is looking like his dad or I might have to do it, he was quite alarmed. But it's supposed to be a child's voice! Yes, son, I know. Evan is thinking he might just have to step up to the plate one more time.

In other news, we had some hail the other day.



The storm chasers were around the very next day leaving flyers on doorknobs.

College kids will not be home for Easter. Silly academic calendars. But four weeks from today I will drive to Missouri to pick up Caitlin, and a few days after that we'll all go to Fort Worth to see Trevor receive his Master's degree in music! Speaking of Trevor, he has accepted an invitation to pursue his Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Iowa. He is receiving a full tuition scholarship plus a teaching and accompanying stipend. We are very, very happy!

This past week I wrote an article on the Benedict Option which got a little traction. Then yesterday I posted something seemingly unrelated on Facebook. And yet as I think more about the previous link, which is about the shortage of organists in the Church, I am starting to connect it to the Benedict Option. The basic idea of the Benedict Option is that many who would claim the name "Christian" are losing touch with what that actually means. In other words, we call ourselves Christian, but we aren't living and worshiping so as to preserve and pass on the faith to future generations. While the Church in other parts of the world is growing, here in America (and other parts of the Western world) it is shrinking. The Benedict Option calls for Christians to see the gravity of this situation and take steps to turn it around. Author Rod Dreher argues that before we can share our Christian faith with others, we need to reclaim it for ourselves.

So how does that connect to an article about the shortage of organists? As I think about my own church body, which is often called the singing church because of the emphasis it puts on music, it seems to me that we are in many quarters losing touch with that part of our identity. After I posted the above article on Facebook there was much discussion about the difficulty of finding musicians, paying for musicians, and supporting congregational song. Many churches are giving up and going to recorded tracks. This is a terrible, terrible development. The more we rely on such measures the more likely it is that there will be even fewer church musicians in the future.

I am starting to think that, while it's great that we send missionaries to foreign lands (and my husband is one who goes), we might need to give some thought to what we can do to shore up our own churches and our own worship. It doesn't appear to me that we are doing what needs to be done to preserve our musical and liturgical heritage. It's not something that is just magically going to survive because we want it to. In the same way we need to be intentional about living out our Christian faith, we need to be intentional about passing on the gift of music and liturgy. There is so much more we could be doing, and it deeply frustrates me how as a church body we give lip service to it but don't really do anything about it.

Enough of that for now. The hour has come. A blessed Holy Week to you and yours.


Palm Sunday Verse/Hymn of the Day from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

For Christmas I got my husband Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. He read it in a matter of days and loved it. I finally read it myself. The term "hillbilly" calls to mind a poor, uneducated person living in the hills or mountains, particularly the Appalachians. It is often used pejoratively. But Vance uses the term not as an insult, but matter-of-fact-ly. Hillbillies are his people, and he describes them with both love and brutal honesty. Hillbillies are my people, too, and my husband's. I see so much in this book that I know because I have experienced it. I am not from Appalachia, and my upbringing was not as violent as Vance's, but like him, I come from country folk of Scots-Irish descent. And there is so much in this book that rings true and reminds me of my childhood. Here are a few of the things that Vance writes about to which I can easily relate:

Not knowing whether a parent is going to be sober or drunk. Scoping out the situation and then getting out of the way if it is the latter.

Lots of domestic disturbances, foul language, and yelling and throwing things. (To this day I have no tolerance for foul language or raised voices.)

Being embarrassed to have friends over.

When asked about your family, not being able to give a simple answer because between the steps and halves, it's complicated.

Being one of the first in your family to get a college degree.

Not applying to private colleges because you figure you can't afford it and you don't realize that private schools give lots of money to candidates they deem worthy. So you go into debt for the public institution when you might actually have fared better with the private one.

Having difficulties handling conflict because your history with conflict is so very negative. Early in Vance's relationship with his future wife, she told him, "Whenever something bad happens--even a hint of disagreement--you withdraw completely. It's like you have a shell that you hide in."

Having older siblings and extended family that sometimes provided the normalcy and emotional support that my parents didn't.

Having a high ACE (adverse childhood experience) score. I was not familiar with the concept of adverse childhood experiences as a field of mental health study. If you're interested in learning about it, here's a helpful link. I have an ACE score of 6 (out of 10). My husband also has a high ACE score. Vance writes, in his book, about how difficult it is to break the mold of one's upbringing. If you come from an environment of substance abuse, domestic conflict, broken marriage, unwed pregnancy, etc., you are statistically more likely to continue the pattern than to break it. I am not sure how my husband and I were able to do it. We had so many strikes against us. We still struggle with some of the effects of our upbringing. All I know is that God had mercy on us. I am sure life would have turned out completely different for both of us if the Church had not been a constant presence in our marriage the last 30 years.

Vance writes about the miracle of his being able to break out of the path that so many in his shoes are destined to remain in, crediting a perfect storm of people and circumstances that afforded him the hope and opportunity necessary to chart a different path. He concludes Hillbilly Elegy by considering the ways in which the "system" that is supposed to "help" so often doesn't, but at the same time laying ultimate responsibility at the feet of the individual:

"I believe we hillbillies are the toughest . . . people on this earth. We take an electric saw to the hide of those who insult our mother. We make young men consume cotton underwear to protect a sister's honor. But are we tough enough . . . . to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?"

As much as Vance's book resonated with me, I had so much more going for me than he did. Yes, I had a father with alcoholism and a mother with depression. I grew up in a combined family with a lot of anger and dysfunction. My parents' personal problems led to their not giving their children and step-children the attention they needed. Yet unlike Vance, I did have two parents who stayed married. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor, and I never had any worries about having my physical needs met. In spite of his alcoholism, my dad always held down a job and paid the bills. Another parallel I share with Vance is the experience of being the child who benefits from parents seeming to figure out, later in life, how to be better parents. (In Vance's case it wasn't his parents, but his grandparents, who did so.) Perhaps it was because as the youngest, for the second half of my childhood I was the only one left at home. I got benefits my older siblings didn't. I was the one who was driven to piano lessons. I was the one, after my mom became Catholic, who got taken to church. As the only "ours" of a "his, hers, and ours" family, I was the one who grew up with both my biological parents.

I won't tell you how Hillbilly Elegy ends other than to say it made me cry, tears of both sadness and hope. J. D. Vance (who is only 32) recently announced he is returning to his roots to try to make a difference. God bless him.



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why It's Good to Have Older Siblings Visit from College

They remind you it's not all about you. Case in point below.

Scenario 1
13-year-old to his mother:

"Wanna know something crazy?"

"Sure!"

Scenario 2
13-year-old to his 21-year-old sister:

"Wanna know something crazy?"

"Do I have to?"