Les Miserables – an undeserved feast

Things I know: I’m just me. I’m no critic, I’m barely a professional musician; I’m just a mom and a Pastor’s wife with little more to do than chase my kids and listen to Pandora. Truly. So I’m not sure why I am taking this review so very seriously. But I am. And I have. So here goes.

When I found out that the film Les Miserables would be released in mid-December, I made a note in my calendar to ensure that I would see it on opening day. Several weeks later, the opening date was changed to December 25th, and as a pastor’s wife and mom to a Christmas baby, I knew full well that I would no longer be able to see it the day it opened. Undaunted, I decided to take the pressure off of my husband and family, and chose to see it once school was back in session.

Yesterday was the day. I woke up, ready to enjoy the first ‘alone’ time I would have in many weeks… and immediately happened upon a barfing 8-year-old. That’s ok, I thought. Not today. No movie today. No big deal. So I continued on, tucking my deep desire to see the film on the big screen away for another indeterminate time… when Scott came home and said, ‘I’ve got this. You go’.

For he knew that the delay of this pilgrimage for another day might be too much for me to bear.

You see, it is only as the film has been released that I have been able to articulate why it matters so much to me. There is not another piece of music, another film, another album, another set of songs, that is as much the soundtrack to my adult life as this soundtrack is. I have been singing the songs from Les Miserables since the fall of 1987, when Mr. Anderson handed out the medley [the grey one] to our choir at Southwest High School in Green Bay. This doesn’t make me remotely unique – I bet most high school choirs in the late 80’s did this medley. But most choir members weren’t me, or my friends, gathered around the piano at 2050 White Oak Terrace in Green Bay night after night, singing the remarkable songs from this show, amidst the clouds of smoke from my dearest friends and their Carol Martens-appointed ash trays. Most every gathering, every trip to Kroll’s, every night together included at least a few moments around the piano, and these songs always managed to be sung, and my mom always popped her head into the living room to tell us how much she loved to hear us sing. Always.

So it was that blessed baggage that kept rising to the top when I took time to consider why I was so eager to see this movie. I am not normal. I know that. But this experience, even before I had it, was as sacred to me as almost anything. And I would not be thwarted, not by Christmas releases or barfing children.

I should also say that I read every word I could get my hands on about the film before it came out – and every scathing word and review, including those from some of my oldest and dearest friends, also musicians – and they painted a pretty grim picture. I wrestled long and hard with my expectations on the way up. Had I set myself up for disappointment? Could any film live up to my high stakes? I had purposed in my heart to go to take in the entire experience – not to critique the singing, which I knew wouldn’t be vocally sound or in most ways impressive – but for the love of the story. I knew that I couldn’t go wrong if I kept my focus on the story. Neither Amanda nor Russell could take that away from me. As Scott said, ‘So, you’ve decided to like it, no matter what. You really don’t even need to see it, then, because that could make you love it less’.

But see it, I did, and I settled into my seat with a gallon or so of diet Coke, ready to take it all in at noon, with only a handful of us in the theater.

I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. I don’t know how I could have been. Though I could sing you every word of the score – Truly. Every word. – I could not adequately prepare for the feast that I was about to be served.

I have never been so moved by a film. If Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne aren’t nominated for Oscars, there is no justice. There might not be higher praise that I can give the film than this:

nothing bothered me.

 

Do you know me? Because if you do, you know that things bother me. I had expressed eyebrow raises about the casting of Russell Crowe, and loud words of protest regarding Amanda Seyfried, whose singing in Mamma Mia was sub-par [at best]. But when sitting in those seats and taking in the story and the saga, I was completely unbothered by either one of them. Crowe sang like a man wrestling with his soul. I loved everything he did. His pharisaical struggle was a marvel to watch – to see a man so unable to grasp the truth that ‘mercy triumphs over judgment’ was powerful… and the one transparent moment when he displayed a heart full of love was more than I could take. I was glad I was alone – have never sobbed so hard in a theater. And Seyfried, who thankfully got some vocal help [like a substitute] on the two high Bs, rose to the occasion marvelously. The bar was set very high for the two of them, and they performed both admirably and appropriately.

But oh my word. Eddie Redmayne. It would not be possible for me to love a Marius more than I have loved Michael Ball, but since I missed my window to see him perform Marius live, I believe my affections may have shifted. This young man, freckles and all, brought love-sick Marius to life in the most beautiful, pleasing way. His physical youthfulness only added to the poignancy of the unwinnable war he and his ‘brothers’ waged. Redmayne was a revelation. Where have they been hiding this guy? Samantha Barks as Eponine was pretty much perfect, but we expected that, because we all heard her on the 25th anniversary concert and agreed that she was a rockstar. Her translations to screen were perfect. She’ll be one to watch in the years ahead – she’s only 22!

Hugh Jackman was born to play Jean Valjean on screen. He was perfect. His eyes… oh my. The moment when he meets Cosette in the woods… and of course, the ending – the range that he covers in the 17-year spread of the story is mind-boggling. So, so good. Just so good.

What can be said about Anne Hathaway? This is most certainly her moment. The single-camera single-take performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is one for the record books, the archives. Whenever I sing the ‘pretty version’ of it now, it feels inappropriate and incomplete. That’s just a song. She sang a story – a snapshot – a heartbeat – rock bottom. Most affecting thing I’ve ever seen on screen.

All of the other second tier and supporting characters were great. The Thenardiers were a little boring, but that was better than too obnoxious. The boys at the barricade – especially Enjolras – were as would be expected – strong, good singers, passionate, and great at dying on camera.

Special shout-out to the child actors who played young Cosette and Gavroche with absolute perfection. Cosette stole my heart with her first note, and Gavroche with his last breath. Great kids.

Now, in fairness, let me be clear: I would have NO interest in hearing most of these singers in concert, nor would I stand in line to hear them sing pretty much anything else. But the collective whole of the movie worked for me. So well, in fact, that I fell apart – twice – on the phone after I left, after crying buckets of tears throughout the film. I had to run a couple of errands while I was up in the Dells, and I called Scott when I got to the van, and simply couldn’t speak. But it was when I called my Dad to check in and let him know that I had seen the film that I completely fell apart – tears, snot, sobs, the whole deal – I’m sure he thought that someone I loved had died. I just could NOT get it together. And that’s, I think, the magic of the Les Mis story in Victor Hugo’s words, and on stage and in film – that redemption is possible. That there is always hope. That dreams are worth dreaming. That mercy triumphs over judgment. That an eternity worth waiting for does indeed await us. That forgiveness has power. That unexpected generosity can change the course of one life – many lives.

Les Miserables made me miss my mom, and it made me miss Misty, Jini, Kurt, Aaron, Thomas, Scott, Jeff, Chris, Mr. A., and so many more; but it reminded me that to love another person is to see the face of God; that I am blessed to have loved lots and lots of ‘another persons’ in my life, and that I am so incredibly thankful to have been marked and shaped by a soundtrack like this. Go see this movie. Lay aside your high expectations for vocal perfection; you won’t find it here. But you will find a marvelous story, so beautifully told that you just might be changed.

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For Lent at church we’ve been reading NT Wright’s ‘The Challenge of Easter’ which is an excerpt from his ‘The Challenge of Jesus’. It resonates SO deeply in my soul – he challenges the ‘my own personal Jesus who died for my sins’ theology and talks about the historical implications of a resurrected Savior, and of the redemption of ALL of creation, not just my escape plan from the flames. Last night I shared with the group that for many years I had life divided into Christian Things and Non-Christian Things…. Christian Music. Non-Christian Music. Ministry. Secular employment. So many categories. I had moved far from that sort of thinking already, but when an opportunity to play music at the local upscale supper club came up, I couldn’t figure out why it was resonating SO deeply in my soul. I’ve played at Royal Albert Hall, with some of the best Bible teachers in the world. I kept hearing whispers of ‘you were made for this!’ and would think, ‘how is that possible? Made for THIS? Made for Henry Mancini, Cole Porter, REO Speedwagon and Barry Manilow?’

Resoundingly, I respond – YES! For this! Redemption comes in strange places. [thank you, Sara Groves]. My Mom didn’t like coming to church. But she loved hearing me play. She ALWAYS came when I sang at the karaoke bars. [paid for college. ;)]. She eventually tired of the church services. But she would have absolutely LOVED this place, this job, this thing, this beauty. Adding to the beauty – to God’s common grace, perfectly created order that is GOOD – is redemptive. So I’m going to be the best supper club pianist you’ve ever heard. AND, as relationships build, and trust grows, invitations will be extended to hear the reason for the music. I have to believe it.

;

We come with beautiful secrets
We come with purposes written on our hearts, written on our souls
We come to every new morning
With possibilities only we can hold, that only we can hold

Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

It comes in small inspirations
It brings redemption to life and work
To our lives and our work

It comes in loving community
It comes in helping a soul find it’s worth

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful
This is grace, an invitation

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out our best

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

-Sara Groves

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas….

…my true love gave to me:

a new Bible study at my kitchen table – Ephesians. I’m excited and terrified to lead, as usual. A privilege.

2-3 new bodies around that same table

memories of a glorious Christmas celebration at beautiful, sacred Trinity

The relief of turning the calendar to a new year, though it was agonizing to do so. Felt like I was leaving my mom behind and that was more heartbreaking than I anticipated.

Three children back in school, and one two-year-old who is talking up a storm – finally and gratefully. I love those kids.

A heart of compassion and empathy for my friends, including Jodi, Judy, Paul, Kelly, Shane, Joe, and Jeff, who have all lost parents since mom died in July.

a body that’s compelled to health in a new way after an autumn of great success in my spinning class; excited to bump it up a notch in the weeks and months ahead

a heart of thanks for all of you who follow my occasional musings with such grace and joy. thank you.

an eagerness for some upcoming gigs – will link to an updated calendar soon.

Therefore we do not lose heart, though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day by day by day by day by day by day…..

Gratitude and Full redemption

I’m borrowing Katie’s words tonight.

Her mom died yesterday – young, hip grandma, loved the Lord with her whole everything – recent cancer diagnosis, a few days in home hospice, and she was gone.

Since Mom’s death on July 9th, when I hear stories like Katie’s – like her mom’s – I have found a compassion in me that I’ve never tapped into before. I can only think that it’s the promise of the Lord in his word – from 2 Corinthians, chapter 1:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Our Comfort abounds. Indeed. Anyway, I have to be careful because I’ve always been the dramatic type, and I can tend to take other people’s stories onto myself, which becomes a skewed form of entertainment. And if you’re still with me after that admission, then you must be a real friend.

But I digress.

The Lord has been my comfort. I have experienced His nearness and goodness in ways that I can’t really explain. I have had moments of hopelessness, of anger, and of real sadness. But I have never doubted that God is sovereign, and good, and worthy to be trusted, even in this.

So when I found Katie’s post last night about her dear mom, something in me grieved so deeply, but I also felt like the Lord watered a seed of hope deep within me. I ache for her, for her family. And I still believe that God is good. Like Katie does.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2010

 

Redeemed

This morning I woke up early.  I went right in to see my mom.  The last couple of days I’ve done my bible study near her and even though she doesn’t really respond, I still read some of the verses out loud to her.  She loves the Word.  Today she was just such a faint shadow of herself.  It was hard to even read the verses out loud…  I placed my hand on her stomach and prayed once again that God would heal her from her pain, from her sickness, I prayed that she would live so that I could have her longer in my life, but more so that He would get the ultimate glory for stretching out His mighty arm to heal her.  I read about Abraham about how God parted the red sea and I prayed this verse:

LORD, I have heard of Your fame;
I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our time, make them known!
Hab 3:2

I prayed believing, and prayed asking Him what His will was.  I wanted to know what He would do, I had grown so weary from waiting…  from watching my mom slip further and further away from whom I have known her to be.  And then I came across this passage:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Rom 8:18-25

This is her calling:  to eagerly await her adoption as daughter, the redemption of her body.  She belongs with Him.  She is His beloved, His child, His daughter.  It could not have been more clear to me.  She belongs with Him.  I needed to come to the understanding that, when praying for healing, God’s discernment is ultimate and it is good.  He has taught me that there is no shame in asking and hoping and that He is, in fact, mighty to save.  There are times when He discerns that He will hold off on the adoption of one of His children so that His ultimate good can be done, and then there are times when He decides that it is best to take His child. So I sat there with my mom, crying and praying, realizing that she would be best with Him, happiest, most fulfilled.  And I knew that, while He could heal her, He was not going to, He was going to take her.

And He did.  She left this world this afternoon.  She is no longer here.  She has been redeemed.

Sadness washes over us, but it does not take our hope.  We will again Praise Him.  We will bless His name forever and ever.
Here is how Abraham started his faith journey:
“By faith Abraham when he was called,
obeyed by going out to a place which
he was to receive for an inheritance; and he
went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Heb 11:8
And that is how we will start our journey now; without my mom, by faith, not knowing where we are going. And, like my mom, we will go out and lead a life of love, eagerly awaiting our adoption as sons of God.  Our lives will never be what they were.  Please pray for us.

 

And now we turn the corner to Thanksgiving. Dad is coming down, he’s cooking [how blessed are we?!] and hanging out for a couple of days. Thursday is November 25th – Mom and Dad’s 56th wedding anniversary. They were married on Thanksgiving Day 1954 – Mom spent a year as a teacher [she HATED it!] and the only time they could get even a brief honeymoon was over Thanksgiving weekend. They were married in Platteville, vacationed in Chicago, and were back to work near Madison on Monday. In 2004 we hosted a dinner for their 50th anniversary – also on Thanksgiving day that year. So it has such a special meaning for us. It will be hard. Yes. But it will be good.

I am counting on it.

For Mom. For life.

I had a thought yesterday that took my breath away. It sounds foolish, I think, and a little silly, and obvious. But I realized for the first time that this feeling of missing my mom is never going to go away – there is no end to this. When a friend dies, or someone with whom you’re not as close, or even a more distant relative, it feels to me more like an event – a thing that has a beginning, but also wanes to an end. (Maybe that’s because, too, I’m so often involved in funerals for people in those categories. As much as one can be, I’m used to such things.) The realization that there will be no abating to this feeling – I will *always* miss my mom – hit me hard. Maybe that’s a signal that I’m moving to another stage of grief – the part that’s beyond sadness – somehow deeper. The thought of the long-haul missing is exhausting, even at the front end of it. Mom’s been gone now for 16 weeks. Sixteen Fridays since the Friday she died. She loved – adored – the fall, and this one has been spectacular in every way – an October of sunshine and incredible colors. Last weekend when I took my son to his final soccer game of the season, we drove on highway 33 to the interstate. When I came around the corner to The Narrows, I promptly burst into tears at the beauty of it all. Seriously – everyone said that it was past peak. Nonsense. It was amazing.

My heart has been tender this fall. I am quick to cry, and quick to need to sleep. Sometimes it’s not obvious that my moods are impacted by grief, but I feel as though there is a meltdown just below the surface of my days most of the time. The children have been wonderful – transitions to school have been much better than we anticipated, and the littlest one and I have a great time at home doing our thing while the other kids are at school.

Dad and Steph road trip to Mineral Point and Platteville

We have spent several days in Green Bay helping dad as he prepares to move to Baraboo as soon as the house sells. Poignant, bittersweet – but also just a plain old heck of a lot of work. Ezra has been my buddy for those road trips. He’s a sweetheart and he loves Grandpa. So do I. Dad has been a rock star – pressing on, doing the hard work that’s going to set him free for the rest of his life – the more we purge now, the more comfortable and settled he will be once he gets here. This morning Dad is at the funeral of his niece/my cousin, Linda, who was far too young to die of cancer – in fact, the same cancer as Mom’s, with the same sort of hyper-fast progression. I was asked to sing, but because of a dress rehearsal for our All Hallows Eve service, I couldn’t. Frankly, it was a bit of a relief to be forced to say no. I haven’t done a funeral since Mom’s.

Part of the pressing on for me this fall has been participating in a Spinning class. Not wool, not yarns, not tales, but group cycling. Twice a week I’m on the bike, and it’s helping me to find my way. Seriously – the physical work of this kind of exercise taps into something deep in me – not sure if it’s my inner athlete, or a part of me that has long been forgotten… but I think it has something to do with having watched Mom die as a result of not caring for herself in the ways that she could have, and should have. I would like to think that I would, as much as it depends on me, live as well as I can to avoid disease and illness. I am well aware that this is not fully within my control – but I have a renewed sense of wanting to do better. And so I am. At class on Thursday, we biked to Melissa Etheridge’s I Run for Life – which, I have to say, is a fabulous anthem. Do you know it?

We did a hill to that song… standing up, crazy high resistance, running for life – tears and snot, hope and memory, all of it making for a pretty intense experience. I run for my life, and in memory of Mom’s, and for my heroes like Crescent and Jan and Kathy and Bobbi and Carrie and Barb and Linda and….

Crescent, finishing her treatment. This is hope.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway – the Lord has not left me alone in my sadness. He has been present in ways that I have expected, and ways that have caught me by surprise. The state of my heart is not a surprise to Him. I am grateful.

So, I’m off to help get costumes ready, to practice ‘For All the Saints’ for our evensong tomorrow night, as we commemorate those who have gone before us, and the Lord who has made the way. It is Mom’s first All Hallows Eve in the presence of the Lord. She wins. As for me, in the rhythm of life, I continue on with a grateful heart.

An Unexpected Lenten Feast

or


Lent, Interrupted.


I think this flight is delayed so that I can finally get a blog post done. I’m in Charlotte where it’s warm, sunny, and glorious. Wish I could be on the other side of that great big window.

It is customary in our tradition to lay our al—uias aside during the season of Lent. It might seem a small and unimportant thing, but I have learned now over the last several years that removing the word from 6 weeks of worship services does very much matter – when the Easter Vigil reaches the glorious moment of declaring that Christ is risen, the word that has been missing for so long suddenly comes back – with life, and meaning, and import, and glory. I love it. What a great moment. We sing it more times than we can count at the Vigil and on Easter morning.

It is true, too, that Sundays are always considered a feast of the Resurrection, and if one wanted to, one could very easily justify feasting on the Sundays of Lent – or at least not fasting. [did that make sense?] In other words, the church gathers for worship because Christ is risen, and that isn’t any less true during Lent.

In an incredible convergence of time and liturgical season, our little church had the opportunity to mark the death and honor the life of a woman who did nothing less than live her life out loud – for 95 years. Sara died on a Thursday, and her family planned her funeral service to take place on the following Sunday afternoon. That this all happened during one of my trips away, and while my daughter had the stomach flu causing my husband to be writing sermons late in to the night on Saturday is of little notice [but was worth mentioning nonetheless. :)] My husband, the Rector of our little parish, was able to visit with Sara twice during her last days of life, even being present to pray with her just an hour or so before she died.

Sara’s life looked, by all outward accounts, like a lonely one. She never married. She had little family. She was rather transient over her long lifetime. But just beneath the surface of Sara’s story, for those who would take the time to look, and ask, and see, simmered a rich history of experience, service, and love that was a ministry to anyone who encountered her. Sara was a pilot in World War II. Sara was a lawyer. After her lawyering days were done, at age 66, Sara was ordained as an Episcopal priest, and she served a parish for 20 years – until she was 86. At that time, she decided to move closer to family, so she came to Wisconsin to live near her niece. Sara’s last 10 years of life were spent in an assisted living center, and her last 10 years as a worshiper bound by time were spent at Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo. From our first day there, we were intrigued by Sara, in her wheelchair in the front row, obviously afflicted by a failing body, but also obviously very much alive and engaged in her head and her heart.

The church bulletins that we inherited at Trinity had the tradition of including study notes on the readings for the week. The notes were provided by the national church, and as such, they were a little flighty. Nothing to write home about. I began to nag Scott to ‘get those notes out of there’. It wasn’t more than a week later that Sara, after the service, said to Scott, ‘Thank you so much for continuing to provide the notes on the readings in the bulletin. I use them when I lead my Bible study at the nursing home every week.”


The notes stayed in the bulletin.

When we gathered for her service last Sunday, the late-afternoon sun was shining through the stained glass windows, adding a noticeable glow to the room. Seriously – it was so beautiful. The Service for Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer opens with this anthem:


All stand while one or more of the following anthems are sung or said.
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.

Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.

Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.

Can you imagine the drama of that moment? A golden sanctuary; a gathered people; a prelude of Bach tunes, then the silence that precedes the anthem, which is read by the Rector as he processes with the crucifer in front of him – if there’s a casket, it comes behind the cross. It is an extraordinary moment.

When we reach the end of the service, during the committal, the line is said:

….and even at the grave we make our song – Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

And the congregation repeats the Al—uia. It’s amazing. And coupled with the context of honoring this amazing life, on an amazing Lenten Sunday, it was a feast for the senses.

We miss Sara’s encouraging presence in the front row. It became harder and harder for her to come. But she did. She was there. Incredible.

So my Lent was interrupted with a Sunday Alleluia song. And that’s ok with me.

In the starkness of the Lenten journey, as we round the corner now, coming up on Palm Sunday  just one week away, I hear the faint, whispered song on the wind — the song that we will sing, even at the grave – because it is empty. The work is completed. Death has lost its sting.

I want to know Christ… and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.

[The other thing I want is for my flight to leave O’Hare tonight. The window through which I’m peering now isn’t warm and sunny, but it’s filled with snow and the clouds from the de-icing trucks. But that’s another blog post. :)]


Comfort and joy, comfort and loss, comfort and hope

I love my silver tree.

Comfort and Joy

Such tidings! What a wonderful Christmas we are having here in Baraboo. Our Christmas Eve service at Trinity was one for the record books – because of the ice storm, of course, but also because of the turn-out despite the ice storm, and the loveliness of this incredible and historic building. Greenery hanging everywhere… candles at every corner… lights throughout at half beam… it was glorious. From the Willcocks arrangements of hymns to the Communion Hymn for Christmas, the music was marvelous, and the congregation responded beautifully. The choir chanted Psalm 96 to one of Joseph Kucharski’s tunes. Glory! We were particularly moved as a family because it was our first Christmas as Rector and Family, and people were so unbelievably generous with us and with our children. It was wonderful, indeed. And of course our daughter turned 5 on Christmas Day, which always adds a sweetness to Christmas – caused both by celebrating her birthday, but also by recounting the Christmas Eve service 5 years ago when my water broke at church as I was about to begin playing organ and piano, directing the choir, and singing several solos. What a rich memory. Comfort and joy!

Comfort and Loss

Christmastide equals memory, so I have heard it told. True, I think, though there is clearly much more to Christmas than what is in the past. Haven’t the proclaimers of such limited truths ever read Dickens? Nonetheless, I always experience a melancholy just on the other side of the Christmas joy – remembering years and beloveds gone by, I suppose, and experiencing the reality that you never can go home again. This year, though, Christmas for me has the deeper sadness of the death of a friend. Amy’s second pregnancy started off quite normal, but when tests revealed that her unborn son would be the bearer of a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18, we all knew that Micah’s birth would be one of great complexity. Amy went into labor on the night of the 26th, and Micah was born almost 6 weeks early, on the 27th. His heart beat for a moment, and then he was gone – from life with mom to life with Jesus. Not a bad deal for him, but a heartbreaking one for those of us who love him and who love Amy and her family. Amy and Doug are standing on the steadfast and sure person of Christ Jesus, and are receiving comfort that they will undoubtedly one day tap into to comfort another. But in the meantime, they grieve. We all do. Comfort and loss.

Comfort and Hope

In the meantime, November and December have been marked by the breast cancer diagnosis of one of my best and dearest friends from college, C. C and I were inseparable for a couple of years as I rounded out my [lengthy] undergrad career. She was a freshman when I was a super senior, and our hearts were knit together by a common love of musical theater, ABBA, and Very Bad Movies. She was Cinderella to my Wicked Stepmother in Into the Woods. Years, marriage, time and space made their way into our friendship and we had sort of lost track of one another as time had gone by.  Every now and then when her name would pop up onto my yahoo chat screen, we’d say hello and giggle and that was that. This fall, though, we had managed to reconnect more significantly just before word came in that her biopsy was not filled with good news. C has cancer. C is starting chemo in January. C has been my hero for the last 2 months. Her real-life acceptance of this journey has been filled with hope on every level. She and her awesome husband don’t have kids. Yet. What this all means for the future of their family, they don’t know. But they continue to be filled with hope. C has a fantastic family – I mean, hardcore, the real deal, awesome people – and she’s surrounded by love. If anyone has the courage to face this head on, it’s C. I’d be grateful if you’d remember her in your prayers. Just reference her as The Rock Star. The Lord will know. Comfort and hope.

And I’m off to put a 1-year-old down for a nap.

Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

Emerging from Easter stupor…

…with a brief update and a joyous YouTube clip…

 

I’ll be getting back to this blogging thing soon — maybe a hymn of the week or something. Not sure what shape it will take, but I know my treatise on Hyfrydol will be here soon.

We’re moving to Baraboo in June! Scott is the soon-to-be-installed Rector of Trinity Church, the kids are about to be enrolled in school, we’ve bought a small house near the schools, and we’re very excited for this new chapter to begin. Hooray!

 

Secondly, this has been a busy spring for me with worship gigs, and fall 09 promises the same. It’s a privilege. My calendar is posted at http://www.stephanieseefeldt.com for those who have the remotest interest. I’m working on selling my music on itunes as well, so stay tuned for a digital update. 🙂

 

Thirdly, I see lots of these sorts of things, but I have to confess that this one brought me actual joy this morning. If I ever happen to be in a European train station [ ? ] at the right time for one of these to take place, I might not be able to contain myself. This was also well timed, because in the car yesterday as we were listening to a remix of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ I said to Scott ‘man, I love remixes like this.’

 

He looked at me with a combination of alarm, consternation, and … worry.

 

‘Why?’ 

 

‘Because they’re perfect for all the step aerobic routines I’m constantly making up in my head’.

 

 

Very.

Long.

Pause.

 

 

‘You know’, he said, not unkindly, ‘those routines do you more good if you actually do them than if you just think about them.’

 

‘I know. Just you wait.’

 

So, with that ridiculous digression, here’s what made me smile this morning. Have a great day!

A study in contrasts

I spent this morning at the memorial celebration of the homegoing of my friend Ruth. Ruth was 91-92, I can’t remember which. I had been in Bible study for several years with her back in my Elmbrook season of life. I always felt that Ruth had adopted me and my family, because of her constant prayers and encouragement on our behalf. Ruth, however, must have adopted hundreds in the same way, because this morning we heard story after story from people for whom Ruth prayed – daily – FOR YEARS. She spent her last years in a senior adult community which was nothing more than a new mission field for her. As her body grew weaker, and smaller, her spirit enlarged as she became more like Christ. She never lost her sense of mission, purpose, and joy. She was ALWAYS marked by joy. I am a better woman – seriously, I am better – for knowing and being known by Ruth. Her service was nothing short of old-home week, and a completely appropriate celebration for a life well-lived.

 

Last night, however, was a different story, when I heard word that one of my high school classmates, Jenni, had passed away. Further details revealed that she had been diagnosed with cancer on December 27th. The one that was 4 weeks ago.

 

She was 37.

 

She left behind a husband a 3 kids.

 

Jenni and I have not been close since the 1980’s. I haven’t seen her since the day we graduated from high school. In thinking of her the last couple of days, I have had several distinct memories about the times we spent together in high school, in our denim skirts, shaker sweaters, and long, silly earrings. We had French class and choir together.  High school has its own drama [that’s another post], but I can honestly say of Jenni that the memories I have of her are only and consistently good. She was a great girl. Other friends have told of her deep Christian faith and life-long involvement in her church. I’m not remotely surprised.

 

While traveling up 894 to Ruth’s service, I couldn’t help but think of the contrasts of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these 2 women. I know they’re obvious. But they have served to highlight a couple of things for me.

  • I want to live well, for as many days as the Lord gives me breath. Teach me, Lord, to number my days. Psalm 90.12. 
     
  • I have asked myself – if the Lord decided my numbered days were done, what will my children most remember of me? This one makes me cry, and causes me to want to do better. In a lot of things.

This summer, at the 20 year reunion of the Green Bay Southwest High School class of 1989, we will no doubt lift a glass to Jenni, talk about her life and legacy, and wish she were there to celebrate with us.  

 

The next time I see old friends from Elmbrook, we will surely speak of Ruth and her life and legacy [but we won’t lift a glass because, you know, different crowd. 🙂 ]. 

 

But, at the remembering of both women, I want to remember how I felt today. I want to remember how spurred on I was by both of their lives. I want to remember how their deaths caused me to pause, and take stock, so that when the time comes for me to give account before the Throne, I can give thanks to God in the presence of Christ for these 2 women whose lives and deaths, so different from one another, caused another to want to be more like Him.

Two Down!

Ahh…. played piano for nearly an hour this afternoon with no numbness or tingling. Absolutely extraordinary. Apart from some quirks of healing, both hands really feel great. I feel totally undeserving of such grace.. but i’ll take it! Thank you, Lord.
Note to medical community – putting IV’s in that tender skin between the wrist and elbow on the INNER arm is just downright mean. Just so you know. 🙂