Monday, August 09, 2021

Around the Bend

 "I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend... I wonder how the road beyond it goes—what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows—what new landscapes—what new beauties—what curves and hills and valleys further on.” ~ Anne of Green Gables ~ L. M. Montgomery

I've spent much of the past few months saying "I don't know" about so many things.  Not knowing things is not only frustrating, it can also keep you from moving ahead.  Most of the time when I've had to say "I don't know" it's just been about a specific, limited thing--which is bad enough.  But sometimes--this summer, for example--I've felt like I was in a boat on the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend without a motor or oar.  Getting nowhere and having no idea what lies around the bend.

Anne's quote put a different spin on the bend for me this morning.  If you know Anne-with-an E, you know she is a glass half-full kind of person, someone who always looks at the positives in life.  Reading these words--Lucy Maude Montgomery's really--I promised myself to make a better effort about going with the flow, not fighting the current, letting it take me where it will.  This is not easy for me.  I am a need-to-know kind of person.  And yet I also love wandering--getting in the car and just going, following the many rabbit trails that cross our paths if they look like they might lead to something interesting.  I guess it depends on what I need to know!  Sometimes there is more delight in the surprise discovery around the bend than staying put, but in the know.

There's a song that parallel's Anne's thoughts, although I don't think she was speaking about spiritual things necessarily.  It fits, though:

I don't know what the future holds, but
I know who holds the future.
Through it all God has made a way.
Days go by and how time flies,
seasons always changing.
Through it all God has made a way
to find eternity inside today.

I don't know what the future holds 
but I know who holds the future.
I don't know what tomorrow brings 
but He brings it all together.
All I know, this is love
and I can't get enough of Your love.

I don't know, can't understand where it is all going.
All my tears he's already cried.
Because he lives, eternity is
another way of thinking.
All I need He's already supplied.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

They That Wait

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." ~ Isaiah 40:31

I'm not very good at waiting.  I always feel as if there was something better I could be doing with my time.  And yet, I seem to have spent a lot of my life waiting.  Growing up, I waited for my father.  A lot.  He was a school principal of each school I attended from 2nd to 12th grade.  As such, he was my ride to and from school, and so I waited for him almost every day to finish his work (often a meeting) so he could take my sisters and me home.  I knew he was doing something important, so I tried to wait patiently, but even though I got a lot of practice over the years, I never really got good at it.  I always thought I could be doing something better, something more fun.  We didn't have iPhones or tablets in those days, with games to amuse us, so unless I had a good book with me, there was nothing to be done but to wait.

During the summers after my academy graduation, I worked at our local hospital as a ward secretary where my main job was waiting.  Waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for a visitor to ask for the room number of their friend or family member, waiting for a patient call light to come on, waiting for someone to need me to do something.  It was during one of those summers that I read a John Milton sonnet where he said "They also serve who only stand and wait," and suddenly my job of waiting took on much more meaning, gathered around it a sense of importance.  Waiting, being ready, was a service in and of itself!

Several years into my teaching career, I took a break.  I quit my job and spent a year doing post-graduate work at the University of New Hampshire and then another year serving as Au Pair for my sister's two children while she and her husband were at work--teaching, as it happens.  The two were ages 4 months and 3 years.  I remember thinking more than once that I ought to be doing something instead of playing with the kids, reading to the kids, waiting for them to wake up from their naps, etc.  It wasn't until I realized that merely being there for these two precious family members was what I was supposed to be doing.  There truly was nothing better to be doing with my time than playing, reading, and waiting.

It took a long time--some might say an eternity--to find and marry my soul mate.  He says the same thing.  We were decades old by the time we got married.  Our announcement on Facebook merely said "Finally."  The post went viral--among our friends and students (present and former) at least!  We both said it was worth the wait and that learning to be content while waiting was one of the best things we had learned in our lives before marriage.  It wasn't always easy, to be sure, but it was worth it.

This summer has been one of waiting.  Waiting on so. many. things.  Waiting to find the right house.  Waiting (and hoping) for the seller(s) to accept our offer(s).  Waiting for the inspection to come through.  Waiting for the appraisal to be done.  Waiting for the buyer(s)'s response to our "Repair or Replace" request.  Waiting for yet another "right" house to come up for sale.  Not once, but 12 times more!!!!!  They do say that the thirteenth time's a charm, right?!  We've also had to wait for a job to come through for my husband.  Waiting to find the right opportunity.  Waiting for the call back after the first, second, and third interview.  Waiting for paperwork to be read and signed.  Waiting in line for so many things, I must surely be an expert on waiting by now!!!

Our realtor is a strong, positive Christian who went through this waiting time with us.  He often had "bad news" to give us, but he also sent us positive, encouraging messages. Late one Friday afternoon in what turned out to be midway through the house hunting process, he simply wrote the above text from Isaiah.  "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength . . ."  It seems as if we were always putting in offers about that time on a Friday.  He'd send a text about sending off our offer and then we'd have to wait all through the Sabbath hours and sometimes until late Sunday or even mid-morning on Monday.  We became quite practiced at waiting.  It wasn't easy, but that Biblical reminder of the value--even the blessing--of waiting on God was key in helping us survive this long summer of waiting.

Today, the final pieces are falling into place for what will be our new home come August 25.  My husband has an excellent job that he likes and the long summer of waiting is coming to a close.  There were many times when I thought that my strength would fail me, my energy would run out, my mental exhaustion would overwhelm me, and that yes, I might even faint under the weight of the wait.  But everything changes when you put it all in God's hands and wait on Him instead of everyone and everything else.  It may not feel like it is going your way.  But remember, God has His own timeline.  He knows when the timing is right.  We just have to be patient and wait to see how it all plays out.  That is when you can look back and see how your strength and your faith had been renewed at every disappointment.  They that wait will not regret it if they wait upon the Lord.

Monday, January 04, 2021

And Is It True?

And is it True?

The other night as my husband Tom and I were watching the “Cri de Comer” episode of The Crown season 3, we heard British Poet Laureate John Betjeman reading his “Jubilee Hymn” which was written to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, commemorating the 25th anniversary of her ascension to the throne in June 1977.  The above attached YouTube lets you hear him read it himself.  

Listening, I immediately thought of my favorite poem of Betjeman’s:  his “Christmas.”  I love the last three stanzas, and most especially the last two lines.  

And is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,

A Baby in an ox's stall ?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare -

That God was man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Those questions that start the 4th and 5th stanza hit home as I saw the numerous weekend church services that included Communion .  I realized anew how appropriate it is that we consider not just the birth and the death of Christ at this season, but also the important third act of this Salvation Trilogy:  His resurrection.  Is it true that He became a Child and lived and died and lived again . . . for me?  It is.  He came for me.  And you.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Perpetual Thanksgiving

"I am grateful for what I am and have. My Thanksgiving is perpetual." ~ Henry David Thoreau

We stayed home from church today. The Virus and all. We're already on our second church service, this one my home church. The pastor is doing an activity with the children asking them to say what they are thankful for based off of the acronym GRACE. I'm playing along here:

G = God, grace, goodness, graciousness

R = rest, road trips, root beer, Reynolds family, Rittenhouse family

A = Aastrup family, apples, America, apple pie, abilities,

C = cats, compassion, company, contentment, cookies, courage, Christmas, church

E = education, energy, encouragement, everlasting life, eternity,

One of the things I'm thankful about getting older is that I am more and more content with less and less. I am less critical of, and more patient with, myself and others. I am less demanding and more understanding of myself and others as well.

I am definitely grateful for all those who have journeyed with me, whether for a few steps, for the long haul, and for any amount of time in between.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Because I'm Free

Western Bluebird * South Rim * Grand Canyon
I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free,
for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

One of the songs on continuous loop in my head last week is truly an oldie but goody. Written more than 100 years ago, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" has been a source of encouragement to me during the stresses and strains of life many times over, but especially recently. Inspiration for the hymn came when Civilla Martin and her doctor husband visited Elmira, NY in the spring of 1905. There, they met and developed a friendship with a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. The husband was a cripple who took himself to work in a wheel chair. The wife had been bedridden for nearly 20 years. And yet despite these trials and tribulations, they were supremely happy Christians who were an inspiration to their friends.

One day while the Martins were visiting, Dr. Martin asked what was the secret to their hopeful optimism. Mrs. Doolittle's response revealed her great dependence on God and the comfort she and her husband drew from Him: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."  "The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me," says Mrs. Martin. The hymn was born out of this experience. The next day she mailed the poem to Charles Gabriel, who supplied the music. Singer Ethel Waters so loved this song that she used its name as the title for her autobiography. The Biblical passages the verses draw on come from Matthew 6 and Matthew 10:

Matthew Chapter 6:26
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?

Chapter 10:29-31:
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.  30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. 

As I read about this song's history, I was even more inspired. My troubles may seem huge to me in the moment, but when I step back and put them in perspective, never mind put them in God's hands, they become very manageable:

Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he:
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
for his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me

"Let not your heart be troubled,"
his tender word I hear,
and resting on his goodness,
I lose my doubts and fears;
though by the path he leadeth
but one step I may see:
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

Whenever I am tempted,
whenever clouds arise,
when song gives place to sighing,
when hope within me dies;
I draw the closer to him,
from care he sets me free:
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

The part of the refrain that is most wonderful to me is the line that says "I sing because I'm free."  I read a devotional last week about knowing the Truth and "the Truth shall set you free."  That's the wonder of it all, that our God—the Truth—loves us so much, that He truly will set us free from all that worries or troubles us. Knowing this, why don't we sing more often?  Knowing this, why don't we shout it from the rooftop?  Knowing this, why are we ever discouraged?  His eye is on the sparrow. And I know He watches me. What do you know?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Multi-tasking a Catastrophe?!

It seems our cat Sophie is concerned that we are trying to do too many things at once.  Today, she apparently thought I shouldn't be trying to record scores in Jupiter at the same time I'm watching not one, but two webinars!  Here's her solution, at least in part (at left).  Of course she didn't realize that she was only adding to my distractions  instead of decreasing them :)  So it goes in my Life in the Time of Corona!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

So Live, That . . .

“Every year the two most important days of your life go by.
One is your birth day. The other is your death day.
The one you know, and celebrate.
The other passes unbeknownst to you or anyone else.”
~ Mark Twain

Ten years ago, I attended a memorial service for a friend I'd known for some two dozen years. She was a major figure in the international classical music world, a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 years, a highly respected violin teacher, and a much beloved wife, mother, mentor, and friend. She passed away after a seven-year battle with cancer. A life-long Christian Scientist, she had a profound relationship with God that eclipsed that of many a professed Christian. 

The memorial service was held in Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory of Music. Dozens of musicians from all facets of her life presented a nearly three-hour long concert in tribute to their mentor, teacher, colleague, and friend. In between the musical pieces, friends, fellow musicians, and former teachers shared their memories of this amazing woman. As I sat there listening, I heard over and over mention of a life lived with passion and joy. All talked about her calling as a teacher, about the profound influence she had on their and others' lives, both musical and personal.  I can't say I was jealous of all that was being said, but I certainly was inspired. My friend lived her life in the moment, and for the moment.  She knew that each moment mattered, and she made certain it mattered for all she spent time with. She knew, in the end, that God's love made all the difference in the world, and she made sure to let everyone else know that too. It was amazing, in that mostly secular setting, to hear person after person talk about God's love as it shone through their friend and teacher's life. The final speaker, my friend's husband (a friend of even longer standing), talked about her peace and contentment, right up to the end of her life. She died, he said, without regret.

On the 10th anniversary of this memorial service, my friend’s husband posted a follow-up on Facebook that received over 500 responses of comments and emojis.  Reading those comments last week reminded me all over again of the wonder, the power, the necessity of a well-lived life and how the light of my friend’s influence has not dimmed one iota over the past ten years.  The love for her was just as strong, the loss just as poignant.  What a privilege to have known someone like that, and what an important reminder of the importance of how we live our lives!

Every year I like to share William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis" with the juniors. Bryant was an American poet, Massachusetts born and raised, who first made his mark on the literary world in the early 1800s at the age of 17 with the publication of this meditation on death. A fairly long poem, it addresses the natural cycles of life, the importance of living that life so that when death comes along, there is no fear, no worry, only peace and contentment. I had to memorize the last nine lines of the poem when I was a junior in academy.  I’ve never forgotten them. The words made an impact on me then, but I didn't realize at that age what they really meant until later.  The words have been haunting me again since I read the Facebook post about that Sunday night ten years ago. It is no coincidence that Bryant and his poem are usually in my lesson plans towards the end of the school year. I need his reminder of the importance of living our life so well that when our time comes to leave this life, we can go peacefully, and with no regrets. And I like for that to be one of the last things I share with students before we separate for the summer—and with some, maybe, forever.  Bryant put into words what my friend put into reality.  Both challenge me to reexamine my own approach to life and live it to the fullest, and with confidence and joy.  Here are those last nine lines of a profound poem written by a teenager two hundred and nine years ago (an amazing thing in and of itself):

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Another American writer, humorist Mark Twain, wrote a somber observation once that I quoted at the beginning of this devotional.  Once you get over the cleverness of his statement, you have to admit its truth: we don't know the hour of our death.  But according to Bryant, we should know the necessity of living our lives so that our day of death is not an issue of concern.  We should be attentive to the way we live our life is and the quality of our relationship with God. It is always a timely message for me to be reminded of that.   This time, the reminder was complimented with the reminder of that decades-ago experience in memory of my friend. She was able to show us all the way to so live our lives.  She stood tall as an example of Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14, “Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping (The Message).”  My prayer is that we each so live our lives that if our time comes before Jesus does, we can go to our rest, ready for that great getting-up day when He returns to awaken those who rest in Him.