". . . 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)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

Fourteen years ago today we closed on our house in the southwest burbs and Phillip carried me across the threshold to begin our Chicagoland adventure. In a few days we will leave this place for good. Ironically, the person who took the picture below fourteen years ago ended up being our real estate agent for the sale of our house this year. He wasn't a realtor back in 1999 but a friend, and he has remained one throughout our time here. How fitting that when we drive away we will leave our keys with him.

Our time in this house has always been, uh, shall we say, a bit complicated. It was definitely one of those love-hate relationships! We are not fixer-uppers and it turned out there was a lot about our new home that needed fixing up. Still, we learned to love her. Our children have spent the majority of their childhood years within these walls. Phillip and I have both lived here longer than in any other house our entire lives. Fourteen years adds up to a lot of memories. Those memories come with small print identifying the time and the place, and it is hard to leave the place behind without feeling as though you are also in some part letting go of the memory.

In another bit of symmetry, we are leaving Illinois a little over 20 years after coming here, and we are heading back to our southern roots. Leaving Texas was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I had a 10-month old baby and my father was very ill. Taking that baby and kissing his grandpa goodbye to move 900 miles away just about ripped my heart out. My dad died less than a year after we left Texas. But I know that coming to Illinois was the right thing at that time. I will never forget our first Christmas Eve at Trinity Lutheran in Peoria. Leaving midnight mass in an historic downtown church to a gently falling snow made this Texas girl feel like a character in a storybook. How fitting that as I write this, a New Year's Eve snow of 4-8 inches is predicted. Thank you, Old Man Winter. We'll miss you, too. And forever and ever I will look back on our Illinois story sort of like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz:

"But it wasn't a dream. It was a place. And you and you and you . . . and you were there. . . . and I remember some of it wasn't very nice, but most of it was beautiful--but just the same all I kept saying to everybody was 'I want to go home,' and they sent me home!"

Home, of course, is where your people are, and for us Illinois has been home for a very long time. Still, I do sort of feel like we're leaving the Emerald City to go back to Kansas (or in our case, Oklahoma), and I am very much looking forward to a quieter, simpler, slower, less technicolor life with all my dear ones gathered round. I pray wherever you are that you, too, wake up to a lovely, promising new year. See you in 2014!

"Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." - Psalm 37:5

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Last Walk

Today Phillip, Trevor, Caitlin and I took one final walk together in Illinois. Evan decided to stay home, which turned out to be a good thing, because this was almost a two-hour walk. We covered most of the ground we have trod for 14 years now, heading first to a park and then to a nature preserve not far from our house. We took Willard, our dog, with us. Willard is the third of our dogs to walk these paths (the first was Giselle, who came with us from Texas, and the second was Shiloh, who lived all of her nine years in Illinois).

Have you ever watched Survivor? We haven't watched it for some years now, but we used to. Toward the end of each season, the last few, remaining survivors take a final walk on which they stop, in turn, at torches representing the already eliminated players. At each torch they share a few words of remembrance about that player. We decided to spend our last walk in the Chicago suburbs similarly, pausing at favorite stops as we reviewed our time here. We spent the first half of our walk on the years 2000-2005, and the second half on 2006-2011. We ran out of time for 2012 and 2013 but decided that was a good thing since those years are still quite fresh (in some cases, too fresh). It was fitting that we had our two adult children on this farewell walk, as they were with us when we came to Chicago. We kicked off our northern Illinois adventure with a seven and four-year-old; we leave it with a twenty-one, eighteen, and ten-year-old. 

The pond.

Walking to the trout farm.

At the trout farm.

Heading back.

With the one who doesn't let me fall.

Home--for about one more week.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Day 2013

 Yay! Dad is home!

  I gave him a 23 and Me kit. (Caitlin looks like she is mad. She is not.)

That's a Wii U. That's a happy Evan.

 Thanks, Dad.

Willard, captive.

What every church worker needs: "The Art of Stress-Free Productivity." 
Thanks, Caitlin!

New Magic School Bus book from big sis.

I got a Keurig coffeemaker! (Thanks, honey!)

Phillip modeling the wrapping paper.

Father and daughter.

We had a joyous Christmas reunion. Phillip got home at about 4:00 Christmas Day. We enjoyed wassail and appetizers (shrimp, cheese and crackers) and then sat down for present opening (thank you to Evan for the chocolates, Trevor for the necklace, Caitlin for the gloves, and Mom for the slippers!) Then we chowed down on strip steaks, asparagus, and apple pie a la mode. Hard to believe this is our last Christmas in this house. One week from today the packers come. Two weeks from today we will be in our new home. I am practicing relaxation breathing, trying to enjoy one more day of Christmas before I turn to intense moving prep. Merry Christmas to all my readers! Thank you for your concern, interest, and prayers throughout the year. I hope that from time to time something I have written has provided you with a measure of encouragement or insight. I am humbled that you take the time to read. God bless you on this Feast of St. Stephen and throughout all the twelve days of Christmas and beyond!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Flying

I have had to take a few more plane trips than usual this past year. It seems to be getting easier. When I was young I had no fear of air travel. I think I can pinpoint when that started to change. At the time I was pregnant with my first child and teaching high school English. I was also helping out the school's choir as a piano accompanist. When they took a trip to a choral festival in Colorado, I was invited to go along. The return flight was one of the scariest I have ever experienced: extreme, bumpy turbulence with roller-coaster style ups and downs. Many of the students seemed oblivious, but I remember catching the eye of the choir director. He was nervous, too. I was never so glad to get off a plane.

Between that flight and becoming a mommy, my fear of flying got progressively worse for many years, to the point that if I knew I was going to fly I would ask the doctor to prescribe a medicinal aid. But in the last year it seems my fear has lessened slightly. Let me emphasize the word slightly. I am still a very nervous flyer. I experienced it again a few days ago flying to and from Oklahoma for our house-hunting weekend. I try very hard to hide my fear from the 10-year-old sitting next to me. But as soon as the plane starts to taxi I start to pray, and I pray until we're in the air and many more times during the rest of the flight. I think the root of my fear is the sense of powerlessness that comes with flying. I like to be in control. When you're on a plane, there is no control. You are at the mercy of the machine and the guy piloting it (not to mention the weather and the other people on the plane). There is nothing to do but sit, hope, wait, and pray until you are once again on solid ground.

I had the thought while flying this week that I could learn something about life from how I feel when I fly. You see, I have this silly notion that in my everyday life I'm in control--that I can do it without God. Whether it's attending to my various vocations or attending to my own salvation, I fall into the trap of thinking I can manage things myself. Once in a while my life's plane takes a nauseating dive and I remember how powerless I am. But when smooth sailing returns I again start thinking to myself, "I've got this."

But I don't have this, any more than I have the power to keep a real plane from crashing. I don't want to go through life with white knuckles, clutching the arm rests, stomach churning in fear at each little bump. But if I were to spend my days as I spend my time on planes, in fervent, unceasing prayer, maybe I would be able to relax and enjoy the view a little more often.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Miracles

I know the "Christmas miracle" is a Hollywood creation, and the true Christmas miracle was a virgin birth over 2000 years ago, but we have experienced several bits of extra good news this month. For those who may not have heard all of them, here goes.

1) We have a house! Feast your eyes. :-)

We have decided to rent for now. The pool of homes for sale that fit our needs, wants, and price range is pretty small right now. We narrowed down to a couple of options, looked at those, and decided we weren't up to the task of making them immediately inhabitable. So we turned to the rental market. That pool is also fairly small. We looked at two houses in Tulsa and two in Broken Arrow. Both houses in Tulsa could have worked for us. One was an older midtown home with a lot of character; the other was a newer home with a lot of square footage. Neither was ideal, though, and both would have meant a 20-25 minute drive to church. That is less than desirable for people whose lives revolve around church. So we turned to the Broken Arrow options. One of them had five bedrooms, which would have been great for bunking purposes when everyone is home, but it was lacking in living space and in need of much cleaning and repair. The property manager did not leave us feeling confident that either would be adequately done. So at 7:00 p.m. this past Friday night we nervously headed to the last house on the list.

Oh, my. It was lovely. A little smaller than we would like, but truly a beautiful home, built in 2000 and in mint condition. The current occupants are moving back to their home state of Texas and we enjoyed chatting with them as we looked at the house. We knew within a few minutes that this was the house for us. Not only is it in excellent condition, with the floor plan we need (a suitable bedroom and bath on the main floor for my mom), but it comes with all appliances in new or newer condition. (All of our appliances are remaining with our house in Illinois.) It even comes with patio furniture, flat screen TV in the master bedroom, and bar stools (I kid you not)! It is almost too good to be true. There is a nice-sized, fenced yard (which we need for the dog) and a pretty neighborhood park within walking distance. Church is 10-12 minutes away. Between the charming young couple (with adorable newborn and cute Yorkshire terrier) from Texas and the fact that the house just came up for rent this week and we were the first people to look at it, we are convinced this was a "God thing." I know--everything is a God thing. But this was really a GOD THING. We snatched up that house on the spot, and because we are renting, not buying, and we don't have to be at the closing on our own house, we will be able to move even sooner than we had originally thought (probably the first week of January). Oklahoma, here we come!

2) Caitlin has been accepted to her first choice of college, Truman State University in Kirksville, MO. They have offered her $10,000 up front with the possibility of more money later when the competitive scholarship review begins. Truman was recently ranked #12 on the Kiplinger list of best values in public colleges in the U.S.  Caitlin is very excited about the prospect of attending there, and they have been extremely attentive to her in the admissions process, calling on the phone (multiple times), sending handwritten notes, and now, processing her application and sending her initial offer with great speed. I think the odds are good we will be moving some boxes to Missouri in August of 2014 (sniff).

3) My mom recently took another fall, but after a four-night hospital stay and thorough once-over she is back home and doing fine. As best we can tell, she had a fainting spell due to a urinary tract infection. She got quite a bump on her head and a nasty tear on her hand, but we are thankful that nothing was broken. Considering what she has gone through the last week, she is in excellent spirits. Anyone reading who knows me well knows that the preceding sentence is something of a miracle. My mom was so sad for such a long time--I am still pinching myself at the change she has undergone since her surgery in September. I am having to relearn the way I interact with her. Protective walls don't come down overnight, but we are working on it and slowly remembering what it's like to be mother and daughter.

I am in Oklahoma right now but heading home tomorrow. Then it will be time to pick up Trevor and get ready for Christmas! Phillip will be home the week between Christmas and New Year's. We hope to move in early January. Maybe in 2014 you will see me writing less about our day-to-day struggles and more about ideas. I do still have them, sometimes.

Blessed Gaudete Sunday!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Telling the Next Generation

Shared by a friend.

 For those reading who may not know, the video to which this adorable young man is listening is of my husband leading the Advent hymn "Prepare the Royal Highway" at a former congregation a few years back. The video is precious to me not only for the music and my husband's presence in it but also because it hearkens back to a time when we were all in church together during Advent. In the video my daughter is acolyting and my older son is helping my younger son sing from the hymnal. I also enjoy seeing the faces of some dear friends that we don't get to see anymore. I am so glad I took this video that Wednesday evening three years ago. What a gift it continues to be to me and to so many others.

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rejoice, rejoice . . . Who?

I ran across this fun article linking Christmas carols and grammar. It got me to thinking about one of my pet peeves: the way the Advent hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is typically sung. The refrain of that hymn is as follows:

"Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!"

Most people understandably tend to breathe after the word "Emmanuel." It's the end of a line, right? And in most musical settings the last syllable of the word occurs on a longer, held note. It's a natural place to breathe. The problem is that when one breathes there, the sense of the line is confused and it sounds like we are telling Emmanuel to rejoice instead of telling Israel to rejoice because Emmanuel is coming.

For this reason, I prefer the musical setting of this hymn in which the "-el" of "Emmanuel" is given only an eighth note and is followed by a series of eighth notes that carry through to the final syllable of the final word. Keeping the rhythm moving more effectively preserves the meaning of the line. Then a quick breath can be taken at the comma after the word "thee." A skillful lead musician will make sure the accompaniment supports this approach, allowing time for the singers to breathe at the comma.

The likelihood, though, is that this Advent you and I will sing the setting of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" that has a long note at the end of the first line. In that case, I encourage you to do what I do. Take a nice, deep breath after the second "Rejoice" and try to sing all the way to "thee" on that one breath. After "thee" take a quick catch breath to finish the refrain. You may be the only one holding out that "el" but you can pat yourself on the back for doing your part to preserve the poetry of the hymn. And who knows, maybe you will start a new trend!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Still Waiting

I woke up thinking about this post from a few months ago. I guess I am already in the Advent spirit, since it seems we are still waiting! We are no longer waiting on my mom's surgery and recovery, thanks be to God. Her surgery was successful and her recovery is well under way. We are, however, still waiting for a closing and a move, and the reuniting of our family. 

I have thought for a long time now that I need to somehow come to terms with the waiting game. I guess our whole lives are to some extent one big long wait. We wait for birthdays and holidays, for weddings and births, for graduations and job offers, for college acceptance letters and ACT scores, for paychecks (especially if you're a self-employed musician ;-)) and home sales, for diagnoses and cures. Sometimes we end up waiting for a very long time, as the job goes to someone else, the home doesn't sell, the apology doesn't come, forgiveness is not offered, or we are told there is no cure. I am not sure, though, how to be at peace with that sort of waiting. I can't seem to do it. I wait and worry and obsess and cry and ask, "How long, Lord? How long?"

But in Advent I am reminded that while this world is one big wait, the kingdom of God is not. While we wait for the kingdom of God in its fullness on the last day, we as redeemed children of God live in that kingdom right now, today, enjoying all of its goodness and blessing. In the bulletin at church yesterday there was a reminder of the threefold meaning of Advent:

Christ came to redeem us.
Christ still comes to deliver His salvation.
Christ will come again to take us home.

As we go through our days of waiting for earthly answers, we can know that Christ has come, is coming to us now, and will come to us for eternity on that final, glorious day. Isn't it just like Jesus to not make us wait for him as we wait for all the other things of life, but to come to us today, offering himself freely to undeserving sinners like us? I guess with Jesus at my side I can wait a little longer for the rest of it. :-)