". . . 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)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Blessed New Year!

I for one am ready for it. 2010 kicked my fanny. I need only look at my blog post counter to see how much. In 2007 I logged 178 posts. I started blogging in May of that year. In 2008 I was cooking: 435 posts! Hmmm, wonder what was going on that gave me so much to talk about . . . . In 2009 I slowed down a bit, posting 321 times. But in 2010 I crashed and burned: 173 posts, including this one. That's just a little over half of last year's output.

I'm hoping that in 2011 the pendulum will swing the other way, if only a bit. I have wanted to write more this year, but life has gotten in the way. When I have managed to write it has been mostly about my personal life because I have had a hard time thinking much beyond that. That's not a bad thing, since most of you are friends who for some reason actually seem to be interested (thank you for that). But I envisioned this blog as a place to write about a lot more than just my comings and goings and doings, and I hope next year to more often venture outside my own four walls, maybe take a stroll through town, hike over to the next town or those hills in the distance, and perhaps even climb one and see what's on the other side. I would be honored if you would join me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Home Video

Evan and Dad having a snowball fight in our back yard (note the snow-covered construction debris in the background):

Snowball Fight! from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Listening to the live broadcast of King's College Lessons and Carols Service while watching the snow fall and decorating the tree on Christmas Eve morning:

Tree Decorating/Listening to Lessons and Carols from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Evan's class singing their songs in the Sunday School Christmas program. Evan is fourth from the left (the short one--his class is so tall!). His is the voice you hear pop out louder than the others on a number of occasions. I have been encouraging him to use his "pretty" (non-yelling) voice in church but sometimes his enthusiasm wins out over melodious singing. His appearance in this program was a victory for him as he was very nervous about it--unexpected case of stage fright. But we talked him through it and told him he really needed to participate because his classmates needed him to help them sing. I think he took that responsibility quite seriously.

I love how he gets pushed out of the line towards the end of the video so he is hidden behind the row but manages to work his way back out to the front. That's my boy!

Sunday School Christmas Program from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmastide Listening

So . . . if you're like me, you went to church on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and now you're looking at four days until the next church service (New Year's Eve). BUT IT'S STILL CHRISTMAS! So while you're waiting for the next opportunity to join your sisters and brothers in Christ in worship, maybe this will help fill in the gap a bit. It's a link to the 7:15 Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols service at my church. I was not able to attend this service. I went to the 5:00 and 11:00 services but needed to take care of things (and people) at home in the interim. I am so sorry I had to miss it. But praise be to God for modern technology, because the podcast is now up and available for my (and your) listening pleasure!

Several of the musicians involved in this service are of a particularly high level of training and skill. Much of the special music was provided by a vocal quartet comprised of the Cantor, two professional caliber female singers who are members of our congregation (one of whom is a trained lyric soprano with a doctorate in voice), and a young man (not a member) who is the star pupil of the aforementioned opera singer. I challenge you to turn the podcast off after listening to that young man (merely 16 years of age) sing the prelude for the service. I don't think you'll be able to. The song ("O Holy Night") is not one of my favorites--I think it is often poorly sung by amateurs or, on the flip side, oversung--with too much belting--by professionals. But I was transfixed by this presentation. I think that young singer--his name is Joshua Blue--is going to be famous some day.

The service opens with the traditional "Once in Royal David's City" and ends with the Willcocks descant on "O Come, All Ye Faithful." In between there are choral stanzas on "Of the Father's Love Begotten," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came," and "On this Day Earth Shall Ring," plus several special vocal offerings, including "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Gesu Bambino." (Here's a link to the bulletin.)

And, oh yes, there was brass. And they rocked.

So if, as the song goes, you find yourself needing a little Christmas over the next few days, I have just given you one place to find it! And in short order, there should be another link to our 11:00 communion service featuring the adult choir throughout and capped by some soft accordion playing on the final hymn, "Silent Night." I'll let you know when that one's up.

Merry second day of Christmas!

Christmas 2010

This Advent season has been one for the record books. Like many of you, I often find myself feeling rather frantic at this time of year. It is supposed to be a penitential and reflective time, a time to slow down and prepare for the Nativity of our Lord. Instead December is often the busiest, most frantic and harried month of the year, as I scamper mightily in an effort to check off all the things on my Christmas to-do list.

This year was no different. Then again, I guess it was different, but only inasmuch as it was even crazier than usual. In addition to all the usual stuff, we have this little house project that is ongoing. We couldn't even think about decorating until after the drywalling was completed, and that happened less than a week ago. But, thanks be to God, it got done before Christmas, allowing us a few days in which to carve out a space in our family room for a tree.

Here was the view of our family room shortly after the drywall was primed. Everything is still moved to the center of the room, away from the walls.

Here is the result of a few hours of work. The sofa has been turned around and chairs moved into place. You can see our new track lighting with six sources of illumination that can be pointed in any direction. This is not how our family room will ultimately look. This is not exactly how the furniture will be. The bookshelf that is sitting in the middle of the room (you can see the back of it), plus several others, will soon be history, replaced by built-ins on either side of the fireplace. In time I hope that metal school cabinet in the distance will find a different place to live. A desk that belonged to my father-in-law will be moved in, as will a television. But the immediate goal here was simply to create space for a Christmas tree and present opening. That was accomplished! (Aside to Elephant's Child, my decorating conscience: what do you think of the light? And the sofa in the middle of the room functioning, along with the light, as a room divider?)

Here's the fireless (for now) fireplace. It used to be a 2-way that opened out to the sunroom. The sunroom is no more, as are the glass panels that used to be on either side of the fireplace. We could have returned the house to its previous state and put windows in those spots, but we opted instead to close the walls entirely and put in bookcases. Those can't come soon enough! (Note: you can see some of the water damage sustained over the past few years on the carpet in the far corner. We are not replacing the carpet at this time. That corner will eventually be covered up with a bookcase. Some day we hope to rip out the carpet and replace it with wood floors. Some day. )

We usually have a real tree and we usually decorate it a few weeks before Christmas. This year it was an artificial tree decorated on Christmas Eve morning. This picture was taken on Christmas Day after Santa came and before Evan woke up.

You will notice there are no stockings. This year they were hung with care not over the fireplace (no mantel yet) but by the front door on the coat rack. I assured Evan that Santa would find them there (and he did).

A close-up of the gifts from Santa:

Time to open presents. Hey, it's just what I wanted!

That's a nice, close shave there, Dad. New razor, huh? (Bonus points to the first out-of-towner to appreciate the significance of this photo.)

Brotherly love. :-)

Enjoying a new book!

And another! (We have no problem with books for Christmas in this house.)

Pretty girl. I wish I could wake up looking this naturally beautiful.

Shiloh got as many presents as anyone!

A new game for Dad!

Shiloh likes the pillow pet, too.

I hope your Christmas was a happy one, too. But even more, I hope it was a joyous one, because happiness comes and goes, but the joy of the Lord--the Christ Child--is abiding. He came for all, which means He came for you. And having come to this earthly prison, he gathers you up in His arms so as to carry you with Him to Calvary and beyond. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Grief Interred

From what I understand of grief (which is not all that much), there is no ignoring it. One way or another, where the human psyche is concerned, it will have its way. It takes a long time for the grieving heart to fully work through its emotions, and it is best if it happens a little at a time, in measurable, manageable doses rather than as a full throttle explosion after being suppressed for too long. There are as many and varied ways of processing grief as there are individuals who grieve. We are all different, and we all have our own ways of trying to make sense of the senseless. I don't know if I have ever had that truth made as clear to me as it was today.

It happened when we were sitting down to open Christmas presents. We had gathered around our fireplace that isn't a working fireplace yet due to the construction/repair our house has been undergoing the last few months. To make it seem more like a fireplace, and to give the illusion of a real tree (which we prefer but don't have this year) I had placed a votive candle holder in the fireplace and lit the pine-scented candles it held. As is our custom, we told the youngest, Evan, that he could start the present opening. But instead of heading for the tree to pick out a gift, he started to cry.

"Mommy! Mommy! My duplicate is dead!"

(For those who may not know, the word "duplicate" when used in this way comes from the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip and refers to imaginary, often multiple, copies of Calvin who assist him in a variety of ways--for example, taking the blame for bad behavior, or doing homework so that Calvin doesn't have to. Evan has embraced the concept of the duplicate and over the past year we have had our share of Evan duplicates running around the house.)

Back to the story. "What?" I asked. "What do you mean, your duplicate is dead?"

"He died! I buried him, right there in the fireplace." Evan's extended arm and pointing finger directed our attention to the place where his duplicate was purportedly buried, and we saw something we had not noticed before: Evan had picked up one of the used matches and written in front of the candles on the fireplace floor, in black ash, his name: "Evan."

The crying continued. It was not faked, but real. Horribly real. Evan was distraught.

"But Evan, duplicates are imaginary. They can't die. They're not real." This was my genius insight, which didn't help. The crying continued, and Evan continued:

"And now that he's dead he can't get me any presents!"

It was at this point that Dad stepped in.

"Evan, come here." Evan obeyed and was pulled on to his dad's lap.

Dad continued. "How did your duplicate die, Evan?"

"He fell down and hit his head very, very hard."

"I'm so sorry about that. That is very terrible. But you know what? Your duplicate will always be with you. He'll always be in your heart. You'll never forget him. Okay?"

"Okay." A few more sniffles and hugs all around, and all was well enough that the gift-opening could commence. Of course, now Evan's (and his duplicate's) mom was a basket case. Because as all this was going on, and as my husband was handling it in the right way, it dawned on me that Evan at seven years old is no different from any of us, whatever our age. When a special day comes, whether it's a holiday or a birthday or a graduation or a wedding, we look around and expect that certain people are going to be there (or if not there, within calling distance). When they aren't, we are reminded anew of the loss that we have experienced and the depth of the grief it has caused. They can't be with us anymore. We won't ever again, in this life, see their faces, hear their voices, or feel their arms around us or our hands in theirs. They won't ever be able to buy us another present. And oh, how that hurts.

Evan has attended four funerals in the last year-and-a-half, for two of his grandparents, his preschool teacher, and a beloved family friend who was once our pastor. With each of those deaths, I think a little part of Evan died, too, as it does in all of us when someone we love departs this life. Perhaps what we saw today was Evan's trying to come to terms with that loss and grief by "burying" a little part of himself. So rest in peace, Duplicate Evan. You served my little boy well. You gave your heart without reservation to those you loved, and I trust that with God's help the rest of the Evans will carry on in your stead, in turn giving their hearts to many who will be blessed by their prodigal love.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Where are all the wise men?

"Oh, what a ridiculous thing, that the one true God, the high Majesty, should be made man; that here they should be joined, man and his Maker, in one Person. Reason opposes this with all its might.

Here, then, those wise thoughts with which our reason soars up towards heaven to seek our God in His own Majesty, and to probe out how He reigns there on high, are taken from us. The goal is fixed elsewhere, so that I should run from all the corners of the world to Bethlehem, to that stable and that manger where the babe lies, or to the Virgin's lap. Yes, that subdues the reason.

Do not search what is too high for thee. But here it comes down before my eyes, so that I can see the babe there in His mother's lap. There lies a human being who was born like any other child, and lives like any other child, and shows no other nature, manner, and work than any other human being, so that no heart could guess that the creature is the Creator. Where, then, are all the wise men? Who would ever have conceived this or thought it out? Reason must bow, and must confess her blindness in that she wants to climb to heaven to fathom the Divine, while she cannot see what lies before her eyes."

Martin Luther, sermons from the year 1533
Source: Day by Day We Magnify Thee

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Making Some Changes

I have been working on Christmas cards the last few days. (They're all in the mail! Yippeee!) As usual, we are sending out a family photo (actually, this year it's just the kids) along with a year-end family newsletter (you know, the kind that it's lately become fashionable to ridicule).

I approached the letter a little differently this year. Instead of organizing it by person or chronology, I decided to approach it thematically. And without a doubt, our family theme the last few years has been change. So the letter introduces that theme, talks about how humans in general don't like change, outlines some of the major changes in our family's life, and points the reader to the One who doesn't change. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:13)

I'm not going to rehash all of that. If you're a very close friend you probably know some of it. If you're not, count yourself blessed to be out of the loop. But I thought I would share a couple of more trivial areas of my life in which I have this year come face to face with the unavoidability of change and the consequences of trying to ignore it.

First, my feet. For the past year or two I have been experiencing foot pain that started out slowly but has gotten worse and worse. So how did I respond? As any self-respecting middle-aged woman with too much to do would, of course. I ignored it. I kept on wearing the same shoes and behaving in the same ways as I have for my entire life. After all, my feet never hurt before. Why should I have to change the way I live and walk and care for them now?

I learned that the answer to that question is that if I don't change I am going to be crippled some day. So finally, unable to ignore the pain any longer (it's not normal to be nearly unable to walk for the first 5-10 minutes when you wake up in the morning), I went to the foot doctor and discovered two things. First, I have something called a Morton's toe, which has led to a complication called Morton's neuroma. Some Morton's neuromas require surgery; mine is not too far progressed and should respond to PROPER CARE.

The second cause of my foot problems is something I already knew but didn't connect to my feet. I am getting old. I have flexible feet that flatten out when I stand or walk on them. Over my 46 years of life, I have done a lot of standing and walking, and the combination of that and aging means that the natural cushioning in my feet is playing out. It's like a mattress that has lost its spring or a pillow that has flattened out over time. So, as the doctor described it, when I walk on bare feet it's like walking on bone (and it feels like it). There's no cushion there anymore. He made an analogy to trying to support my body weight on knees and elbows. It would start to hurt pretty fast. That's about where my feet are.

What does this mean? Three things, essentially: better shoes, orthotics, and no more barefoot walking. I am going to be working on the first item on the list over time, trying to replace some of my shoes with better ones. (Might be a good idea to start by replacing those Skecher sandals that I have worn every day all summer for the last 5 years or so.) I have already been measured for orthotics and last week received a call from the doctor that they are in (just haven't had time to pick them up yet). And I have become religious about not going barefoot, ever. Not even to walk from my bed to the bathroom in the morning when I wake up. My slippers are ever-present. I even took them to a friend's house this week so that I would have something to walk around in after removing my snow boots. It's interesting how after only a few weeks of this new habit it feels normal. Now if I go barefoot I feel literally naked. And it's helping. My feet are feeling better. (Except when I spend all day walking around in unsupported, orthotic-less snow boots while running errands and Christmas shopping. Ouch.)

This post has actually gotten longer than I anticipated, so you will have to wait to hear about the other change I mentioned earlier. Here's a hint, though: it also has to do with aging. Imagine that.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Celebration Day

This afternoon Evan and I played in the snow. After coming inside we made hot chocolate (for him) and coffee (for me). As we sat together warming up with our respective beverages, Evan made an announcement: "Today is Celebration Day!"

"Really?" I asked. "What are we celebrating?"

"That Christmas is a week away!"

Why, yes it is. How could I forget?

Evan again: "To celebrate, we'll be singing Kyrie I. Do you know what page it's on?" By this time he had pulled a hymnal off the shelf next to our kitchen table and was looking through the book.

"It's in the back, sweetie. I think it's in the 800's." (Wrong on my part. Turns out it's in the 900's.)

Evan: "After Kyrie I, we'll sing Kyrie II." A pause, as he turned to the front of the hymnal, the Advent section. "Then 'The Advent of Our God.'"

He named several more hymns in the Advent section, but I don't remember what they were. We started our Celebration Day observance by singing both Kyrie's as promised (Kyrie II was sung in both Greek and English). Then there was a change of plans and we sang another Kyrie--"Kyrie, God Father"--on the preceding page. By that time we had to clean up and prepare to leave the house for a 2:00 appointment, so there was no time for hymns. But even though our celebration was cut short, Evan seemed satisfied.

What I think is revealing here is Evan's embracing of the sanctification of time and the liturgy. Something special is happening. He wanted to mark and observe it. How did he do so? Through ritual and ceremony. Through order. Through the liturgy. He started as many of our church services do: with the Kyrie. Then he proceeded to sing a hymn. And not just any hymn, mind you, but one appropriate to the season: an Advent hymn.

Tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Evan is well aware of that fact and is looking forward to singing "Light the candle of hope today" while the acolyte does just that on the Advent wreath. Evan knows that in a few days the blue paraments will be changing to white and the lights on the sanctuary's Christmas trees will be lit for the first time. He told me today that the reason we are having "Celebration Day" is that we are celebrating that Jesus is coming so that He will be able to die for our sins. Then his eyes lit up: "And on Easter we'll get a new candle!" (He was speaking of the paschal candle, which gets replaced each Easter Vigil.)

People say that liturgical worship is boring for children--that what children need is not candles and paraments and ritual and hymns and liturgy but rather, entertainment and fast-paced excitement. I think Evan would have something to say about that. In fact, I think he already did.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wachet Auf Podcast

Two weeks ago as part of our observance of Advent, my church presented Bach's Cantata BWV 140 on the chorale Wachet Auf ("Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying"). The podcast is now available and you may listen to it here. The bulletin with text and background information on the cantata (written by Carlos Messerli) can be found here. The cantata begins at about the 21-minute mark, but I strongly encourage you to listen to the entire service and be blessed by all of the hymnody, liturgy, preaching, and special music contained therein.



It's the little things that mean so much.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Reprise

This is a repeat of my post from December 2, 2009. Hope you don't mind--I needed to read it again.

There is a house I pass almost daily in my travels, usually multiple times. It is located about halfway between my own house and my church. Its position, backing up to a greenway next to my regular route, means that I have a good view of the back of the house rather than the front.

We have been living in our current home for almost 10 years, so I have been driving this same route equally as long. And for all of that time, or as much of it as I can remember, this house has been lavishly decorated for Christmas. And the decorations are of the sort that I actually like--not those big plastic/inflatable monstrosities, just lots and lots of lights in many colors. It's unusual to see the back of a house decorated so extensively, but no doubt the owners realized that more people see the back of their house than the front. So for years they have provided those driving by with quite an impressive display.

That is, until last year. Last year Christmas came and went, but the lights never went up, and I assumed that the house had changed hands and that the new owners weren't continuing the tradition. Too bad, I thought. I will miss that daily dose of holiday cheer.

But lo and behold, last week the decorations were back! And they are identical to those we have seen on this house for years, so my assumption is that the house did not change owners after all (although I suppose it is possible the previous owner left the light display behind). Which leaves me to wonder:

What happened? Why were there no lights last year?

The possibilities are endless. Was there an extended illness? Cancer, maybe? Chemotherapy treatments? Was there a job loss? Was there a serious injury, a divorce or a death? Did someone deploy to Iraq?

Maybe there was a joyous event, like the birth of a new baby.

Or maybe they were just tired.

There is no way of knowing, but my gut tells me there is a story there. And as I look from that house to the next, and the next, and the next, and I think about how many houses I drive by every day, I can't begin to imagine the complicated stories playing out in each of them. It boggles my mind to think of how many people there are in this world and of the various trials they are facing. Really, it's a wonder any lights get hung at all! If we were outside decorators (we're not), you can bet our lights would not be going up this year.

But thanks be to God that there is a Light that doesn't need me to hang it up, plug it in, or turn it on. It is the Light of Christ, the Light that shoots like a laser through the darkest darkness, the Light that shines no matter the season, the Light that had no beginning and has no end. It is the Light we await this Advent, the Light that became flesh and entered our time-space continuum a little over two thousand years ago, the Light that suffered, died and rose, ascended into heaven, and promises to come again. It is the Star of Bethlehem, the radiant beams from the face of the Holy Child, the Light that shines from the throne of God and wraps itself with perfect love around His saints.

Whether or not you hang lights on your house this season, may you bask in the Light of Him who is Light, as that Light shines to you and through you for all to see.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Advent Moment

"Fling Wide the Gates" - Psalm 27:7-10, Setting by Allan Mahnke from Cheryl on Vimeo.

(The song begins at about the 20-second mark.)

"Fling wide the gates, open the ancient doors, and the great king will come in.
Who is this great king? He is the Lord, strong and mighty.
Who is this great king? The Lord, victorious in battle.
Who is this great king? The triumphant Lord. He is the great king!"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Prepare the Royal Highway

One of my favorite Advent hymns is "Prepare the Royal Highway" (Lutheran Service Book 343). We sing it a little differently at my church, courtesy of my husband the Cantor. I love how he plays it, capturing in music the anticipation of the people of God as their King approaches: "Hosanna to the Lord, for He fulfills God's Word." The people of our congregation love it: just listen to the singing! And the children love it: it is one of the hymns they most often request. Enjoy! And be joyful! The King is coming soon!

(P.S. You can see my two younger men in the front row of the congregation, a tall one in a green shirt helping a short one in a red shirt to follow the hymn in the hymnal. Oh, and that very pretty acolyte--the one closest to the camera--is my daughter.)

Prepare the Royal Highway - Lutheran Service Book 343 from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


You know how sometimes the facts that live in your head just hit you all at once in a different place?

I had one of those moments today. I was dropping my senior-in-high-school son off at his college math class. As he walked away from the car he turned around and gave me a little wave. It was right out of the movie Big--you know, that moment at the end when Margaret Colin is watching grown-up Tom Hanks walk down the leaf-strewn street, only to briefly glance away and look back to find that he has changed again into his little boy self?

I had a flash like that today. For a fleeting moment, I saw in my great big 18-year-old man the little boy he once was.

I cried all the way home.