Alone

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Strength and struggle…

I am having a hard time right now.  It’s not easy to admit this, as I am usually “the strong one” and “the good girl”.  People come to me with their troubles, secrets and struggles.  And usually that’s fine.

Sometimes, though, I am given information that I don’t need, or want, to know.  Sometimes people tell me things they wouldn’t even tell their best friend.  Does this make me a real friend to them, or just a dumpster for something they needed to purge?

I haven’t been my best self lately for a number of reasons.  I’ve been distracted, preoccupied, unfocused.  Not feeling like a strong woman or a good girl.  Sometimes I wish I could stop time and escape from reality for a day, or even just a few hours.

I don’t want so much to lose control as much as just to…relinquish it, if only for a little while.  I want to surrender to the strength of someone else.  I want it to be OK for me to be vulnerable, even weak.

Being too strong for too long just leaves a person feeling alone.  I know I’m not truly alone, but my struggles are mine alone.  Nobody can live my life, walk my path or fight my demons except me.  And some days, I don’t have much fight left.

It will work itself out in time.  I’ll find my strength again.  And I’ll return to being my best self, intact for the people I care for, and able to care for them properly once more.

Just not today.

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Shelter

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We all need to feel safe…

Recently at work I noticed a small bird on one of the patios, sitting very still.  I thought it might be dead, as often birds fly into the mirrored windowpanes and break their little necks.  But this one was alive, just sitting in the shade of the building, getting wind blown.

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I approached slowly, not wanting to scare it, or hurt it.  But it didn’t fly away, even though there were no visible injuries on its little body.  I think it may have hit the side of the building and just stunned itself temporarily.  Still, it was so exposed I was afraid that a predator might take advantage of its helpless situation.  So, very gently, I approached it…and it let me pick it up!

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I moved it to a place in the mulch between two shrubs where it could have some shelter from the wind and protection from larger animals.  I always feel compassion for the vulnerable ones, those who are exposed, those victimized or exploited by so-called friends who turn out to be emotional predators.  It’s a difficult place to be.

People have always shared their hearts with me, from close friends and family, to workplace peers, to strangers standing in the grocery checkout line.  It’s amazing what people will reveal…and sometimes they regret having done so. I never want anyone to feel sorry that they shared something with me.  My goal is to justify their trust, to cradle them in safety…to offer them a place of Shelter.

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How To Make Hot Tamales

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It’s not about the recipe…

 

Making hot tamales is a process

First, you gather in a loved one’s kitchen

and find the well-worn recipe

Stir up the cornmeal, shortening and hot water

while you laugh about how

the generation before you used to

perform this same ritual

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Next it’s time

to roll the meat for the filling

and laugh some more

because somebody thought

the meat logs were funny

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Then comes the assembly line

of putting the cornmeal mixture

onto the tamale wrapper

sticking the meat log inside

and wrapping it all up

repeating until we’re done

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We congratulate each other

saying “these look like

they turnt out right” and

laughing about how

someone ended up with

cornmeal in her hair

Then it’s time to

boil them all up and

smother them in the chili

that’s been patiently waiting

And savor this

Belly-and-Soul-warming meal

seasoned with

Laughter

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Wings

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The blessing to soar and to sing…

This past Sunday the lovely people of Messiah Lutheran Church where I have sung and served since 2013 said “Farewell and Godspeed” to me as I have begun a new chapter at a different church, Ebenezer United Methodist.  Both churches have referred to my “ministry”, which I have never considered my singing to be.  For me, it’s just doing the thing God gave me to do, offering back to Him the gift that He has lent me to use while I am here.  Semantics, I suppose.

People who know me, or who read this blog, know that I collect feathers.  On my way into the church, I spied a tiny little white feather on the ground, no bigger than my thumbnail.  “Thanks, Lord, ” I thought, tucking it into my bag.  It was a beautiful little piece of comfort on a bittersweet day.

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Joan, Messiah’s director of music, had mentioned in an email that I collect feathers and that if anyone at church found one, they could bring for my last Sunday as a member of their staff.  What a sweet gesture, I thought, and such a nice way to say not “Goodbye”, but “Until we meet again,”.  Because Christians, and musicians, never really say goodbye.  We remain part of the same family.

I had the chance to sing some of my favorite things, with some of my favorite people, in a place that I’ve grown to love.  At the end of the first service my friend Anne came up and handed me a Baggie with a collection of large feathers inside, explaining that she had her son Cameron had collected them on walks over the years.  I said, “I hope this isn’t the whole collection!”, to which she replied, “It is, and Cameron wanted you to have them.”  When I went into the choir room to drop off my folder before Sunday school I found a feather lying on the floor, and picked it up thinking someone had just dropped it.  They had…and that one was just the start.  All over the fellowship hall floor, feathers…on top of every table, feathers…little children tugging on my skirt to bring me feathers!  It felt like I’d won the lottery!

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During Sunday school, Joan presented me with a parting gift, a gorgeous piece of art depicting a treble clef and feathers combined, inside of which she had tucked a small white feather that one of her dogs had tracked into the house after a walk.   And then she had me explain the significance of feathers in my life, how God sends them when I need comfort, a reminder that He is watching over me.  When I see a feather I pick it up, because, while my brain knows that feathers come from birds, my heart likes to imagine that the feathers drop from the wings of guardian angels God has placed in my path to look after me.

As the choir gathered for the second service, Mary Soprano (because we also have a Mary Alto!) presented me with her own take on a feather gift, a hilarious pink and purple boa, which everyone agreed suits my Diva personality perfectly!  I squealed like a child when I opened it, and posed for a photo showing my bounty of gifts and blessings from the day.  Pastor Eric prayed for me during both services, and Pastor Pauline blessed me, anointing me with oil after I had received communion.  Tears of gratitude welled up as I received love, hugs, affirmation and the blessing to continue singing in another family even as I remain loved by this one.

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Over my shoulder the banner reads “Cantate Domino”, Latin for “Sing to the Lord”.  I LOVE that Joan framed the shot this way.  It’s a reminder for me why I do what I do.

And I love that my feather gifts remind me of both the birds and the Angels, creatures that soar and sing to the Lord.

 

 

Broken Ground

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The 15th anniversary of 9/11…

I remember the events of 9/11 as vividly as if they occurred yesterday.  We all do.  My closest connection with the tragedy was the fact that my brother, Reed, was caught up in it.  He worked for American Express in the World Financial Tower, which was very close to the WTC towers that were destroyed that morning.  Like many other families, we watched the footage unfold on TV, horrified by the images bombarding us.  And like many other families, I and my loved ones anxiously waited to hear from Reed, praying that he was safe, at least physically.  We were among the more fortunate families, hearing from him hours, rather than days, after the towers fell.  I was working for the local Fox TV affiliate at the time, and I reported to work that afternoon, thankful that Reed was out of harm’s way, and surrounded by my work family as we all watched the horror replayed for hours on end while news people and experts tried to make sense of it all.  Our boss, Tom, my friends Larry and Dan, and I, kept master control running that day and into the night.  One of my clearest memories of the day was when Dan’s sister came by that evening with her baby boy, and she let me hold him.  Cuddling that sweet child comforted me, reminding me that God is still at work in our world, and that life indeed goes on.  Dan told me on Facebook that his nephew has his learner’s permit to drive now, and that he has been told the story of how he blessed me on 9/11.

The world seemed to break that day.  Buildings, peace, faith, even the very earth underneath the city.  Broken ground.

Flash forward 15 years, and I am sitting in a church service at Ebenezer United Methodist Church where I have just recently accepted a call to sing and serve, leaving behind a church I have served since 2013.  The decision was not made lightly or without deep soul-searching, consideration and prayer.  On the 15th anniversary of the broken ground of 9/11, my new church family celebrated the groundbreaking of a new sanctuary, welcoming me into their heritage.  The significance and timing were poignant and emotional for me.

At the end of the service, we each received a river stone symbolic of “raising our Ebenezer”, then went out onto the lawn to stand where the new sanctuary will be built in the days and months to come, to pray for God’s continued blessing on the church family, and to break ground.  As I took my place on the lawn with the rest of the choir, I noticed something at my feet that has become a meaningful symbol of God speaking to me…

 

I hollered at my friend Marc to show him the feather, and he said, “That’s just like something that would happen to you!”  I replied, “It’s more like something God would do,”.  Then he and I dug into the dirt and celebrated the same blessed peace that holding that sweet baby 15 years ago had given me…that God is still at work in the world, and life indeed goes on.

Taste And See

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Singing, serving, and sharing

Mama always used to tell people that when I was born I came out singing.  More likely, I came out squawling, but I think I probably started to sing not too long after that.  It has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and often, it has been the biggest and best part, facilitating other blessings.  Yesterday was a day like that.

It was a Communion Sunday at church, and my longtime friend Marc and I sang a duet called “Taste And See” right before the sermon.  The song is a paraphrase of Psalm 34, and among Marc, me and our friend/accompanist/collaborator John, we put together what turned out to be a heartfelt and lovely arrangement that seemed fitting for a Communion service.  Singing with Marc is often a bit of a mystical experience; the blend of our voices is special, and added to the decades of friendship we share, the music always seems to become more than just the sum of its parts.  Added to that dynamic was the brilliance of our new friend John pulling an accompaniment out of his gifted head (and in a different key than the score he was playing from!). So our musical offering felt special indeed.

But it was only a foreshadowing of the moments yet to come in the service.  For, after the sermon was preached, the familiar and poignant story of the Last Supper was re-told to us, and Pastors Ann and Jason modeled a new way of offering communion for us to follow.  We were to accept the elements from the person in line ahead of us, and in turn, we were to pass to the other side of the table and serve them to the next person in the line behind us.  In all my decades of church services and taking of Communion, this was a first for me, a chance to serve the Body and Blood to a member of the church family.

The person I had the privilege of serving was my longtime friend Marc.  John’s beautiful piano music as we communed added such a warm and lovely atmosphere to the service, and as Marc and I approached the altar, John revisited “Taste and See” that we had sung earlier.  As I touched Marc’s hands and looked into his face, offering him this Heavenly feast, with the words, “Marc, this is the body of Christ, given for you…this is the Blood of Christ, poured out for you…” I had to fight back tears.

After Marc and I had communed, we took the elements up to the piano and served John last of all.  Marc gave him the Body and I served the Blood.  The power of this whole experience humbled me in a way I could not have anticipated, and cannot explain.  I suppose it is just the chance to share music and God in a new way and deeper level with friends both longtime and recent, musical partners and brothers in Christ.  Yesterday was a little glimpse of Heaven for me and I am so grateful for the chance to have experienced it, to Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.

Challenged

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Bible Boot Camp, writing…

Since 2010, I have done a yearly “Bible Boot Camp” every summer, during which I have read through the Bible in 90 days starting June 1 and ending sometime toward the end of August.  I finished up this year’s installment yesterday and remarked that it had been a little more challenging than usual, in part due to reading a translation I had never used before.  God has always been so faithful to teach, comfort, and yes, challenge me, through this journey, blessing me so much more than my small investment of time deserves.

Because of the special challenges of this year’s Boot Camp, I’ve let a few weeks go by since my last blog post.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  I will admit to a lack of inspiration lately, not because there’s nothing to write about, but because my ability to string coherent thoughts together has been…challenged.

We all have those moments, don’t we?  There is so much to say that we stumble over how to say it, or like me in recent weeks, experience verbal vapor-lock and end up saying nothing.  Even our prayers don’t seem to flow naturally, instead coming in fits and starts, or such seemingly scattered random thoughts that we wonder if even God can make sense of them.

He can.  He hears and understands the things that we cannot say in words because He listens to the heart.  And He cares about all the details of our lives.

So, as I attempt to get myself back in gear for the activities resuming this season with music and church, I will hope also to find my words again.  I NEED to write in order to maintain some sense of balance.  I need to share my story.  Most of all, I need to embrace the times when I find myself Challenged.

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