Ash Wednesday thoughts

Who was Jesus?

The disciples were convinced they knew the answer. He was the Messiah—come to drive out the Romans and free the Jewish people.

We could ask the same question today—who is Jesus? Each of us has our own answers—our own expectations. But these 40 days of Lent—time of preparation leading us to Easter—may take us on an unexpected journey.

Just as the journey—the final journey—took the disciples into the wilderness, so our Lent journey may take us into dark places…where we come face to face with our own questions and doubts…

It’s a place where extraneous “stuff” is burned away—those barriers we put up…those things we hold onto tightly. It’s a place where we answer the question of what we are willing to lose in order to gain something greater—to be transformed into our full potential.

Sometimes our journey through Lent feels like a lonely one—just as I’m sure the disciples must have felt at times. But we are not alone on it. We walk with those who have walked it before—and we walk it with Christ. 

We might find ourselves wishing it were easier—that we didn’t have to wander through deserts…burned-out places. That’s human nature!

But it’s only as we journey through the dark places that we can truly understand and take part in the joyfulness of the resurrection. So it’s not a trip to be feared—it’s an opportunity!

We will each experience desert times—times of loss…doubt…fear. That’s just part of life. But there will be oases—times of rest and refreshment. And on the other side—something more than we can now imagine.

So let’s begin our journey through Lent—individually and as a body—knowing that we do not walk alone…that even though we may not understand all the “why’s”, even as the disciples did not…it is the only way to get to the new life Easter promises. 

Intense weekend…

This has been an intense weekend!

Friday we spent the day at the hospital, supporting a friend whose wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer–the kind that only 15% of breast cancer patients get…She was having surgery to determine what stage it is–and whether it was in the lymph nodes or not. We did a lot of visiting–but the more important thing was just being present.

Friday night we went to a funeral visitation…more on that friend below.

Saturday was spent at funerals–two friends. One of them was Millicent Daugherty–the lady I wrote the previous post about. It was obvious that she impacted a lot of people…people of all ages…because the church was full.

The other one was for someone I had only known for a few years. Ron was the partner of an organist friend of mine. He was diagnosed less than a year ago with ALS–an awful disease. It was difficult to see how quickly he went downhill–obvious every time I saw him. Another mutual friend of ours was going to play for his funeral, but Jan had a contract to be in Florida, doing a concert this weekend. So Aaron asked me to play. I was pleased and honored–and challenged!

There was a specific piece that Aaron and Ron liked–one that honored Ron’s Scottish heritage–that they had wanted at Ron’s funeral…one that Jan had learned well. I decided to see if I could learn it–at least well enough to be comfortable letting someone hear it. But with everything else going on, there wasn’t a lot of time–in actuality, only about 3-1/2 hours! And there are some very tricky places in it…sometimes the rhythm changing from 3 sets of triplets to3 sets of duplets and a triplet…sometimes right right hand playing 6 notes against 4 in the left hand (with the melody in the pedal)…

I got it to where I thought I could play it…and at Ron’s funeral Saturday morning, I was very blessed. The notes lay well under my fingers (and feet)…the adrenaline kicked in, but not enough to make me rush the piece…and I was able to play it in a way that gave the ministry I had hoped it would for Aaron.

Then this morning I preached! Our theme was “Good as New”–and with everything else that had been going on, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to prepare. But again, I was blessed. As I’d been thinking about the theme, there were two images that came to mind. One was of pieces of broken glass–things we throw on a junk pile…like we sometimes do broken lives.

And the other was of the way that artists can take those broken pieces…and make something new and beautiful out of them, just like God can do with broken lives.

So out of the intensity of this weekend…a reminder that God cares for each one of us–and just asks us to to be present with and for each other…

People who impact your life…

I just received word today of the death of someone I haven’t had much contact with for a number of years…but who had a significant impact on my life.

Millicent Daugherty was active in the fine arts for many years in my hometown. She sang the soprano solos in Handel’s Messiah for the Independence Messiah Choir eight years, and that is where she impacted me.

One of those years, the choir–or a small portion of it (that could fit in a TV studio)–sang a number of pieces for a combination promo / community services program. I was accompanying them at the time, and among the pieces selected were a few of the favorite solos.

I don’t remember who the other soloists were. I suppose that’s because we practiced their pieces a couple of times and they were satisfied that we were ready and would do a good job.

But that wasn’t Millicent’s way. She was going to be singing “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”–and we practiced it until I was about ready to scream! She had it down by heart…I knew it well…why did we have to keep going over it?

I discovered part of the reason why when we began the filming. Everyone was a bit nervous…unsure of what was going to be going on–and there a number of distractions with all the cameras. I don’t remember any problems with the other soloists–I guess it went well.

What I do remember with Millicent’s solo, though, was that because of the hours of practice we had put in, we both knew it so well that nothing could distract us. We were perfectly together–I knew what she was going to do! We were in tune!

And for Millicent, that solo wasn’t just words. It was her statement of faith. There was no doubt in her mind that her Redeemer lives.

She taught me a lot in that experience. I’m not a vocal soloist–my area of music is keyboard playing. But she reminded me of the importance of knowing something so well that you can be right with someone, making changes if necessary without anyone being any wiser. She helped me understand that music can be a witness of what you believe–it’s more than just words and / or notes on a page. She taught me the importance of practice, even if I’ve done something many times before–each performance is new to those who hear it, and I need to make it the best I can.

Her music, as Bach’s, could indeed be prefaced by “Soli del Gloria”–“to God alone the glory.” And I will never forget her testimony–“I know that my redeemer lives!”

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

My husband and I went to see this movie (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) last night…and I would highly recommend it. Just don’t take young children!

There are a couple of places in the film that I might take mild issue with the premise–or the way a situation is portrayed. But overall, it drew me in from the very beginning–drew me in, even though I had fear as to the way it was going to turn out.

Very briefly, it’s the story of Bruno, an 8-year-old German boy sometime in the early 1940s. He moves from Berlin to the countryside with his family because his father–a soldier–has received a major promotion to be in charge of a “camp.” Bruno makes friends with another 8-year-old boy on the other side of the fence in the camp. The movie deals with how this experience impacts the entire family.

One of the things I appreciated was that the characters were not caricatures like you often see in movies dealing with the Holocaust. You began to see how people could get drawn into horrendous situations… Yes, there is cruelty, but there is also humanity…and I think that’s what got to me so much.

The violence is not overt and in-your-face…and in some ways that makes it worse. At least it did for me, because my imagination can be quite vivid.

How does one turn away from evil when at first it doesn’t seem so bad?

And unfortunately, I can’t say that what occurred in the movie was just a historical event that took place before I was born. That type of seeing “the other” as an “it” instead of a human being is still going on.

When will we learn? When will we learn to see each other as Bruno sees Schmuel?

Living with chronic illness

It’s not fun. That’s the first thing to say about it.

I was diagnosed with MS back in 1976. I thought I was having a stroke at first, although I didn’t really panic because I decided I was too young to be dealing with that. I’d been getting over the flu–and within the space of a few minutes, my whole right side went numb / paralyzed, and my speech became thoroughly garbled.

In some ways I’d like to have been a fly on the wall, watching us, because we decided we needed to go to the emergency room–but I didn’t want to go without getting dressed! And trying to get dressed (with my husband’s help) without being able to use my right side at all was an interesting process…

All my tests came back normal–and normality also began to return to my body. So I came home with a diagnosis from my family doctor (who had known me since a baby) of stress. In a way he was right–there were a lot of things going on in my life at that time and in the absence of anything provable, it was as good a diagnosis as any.

But a couple of months later, I had another flare-up–at church! I walked in to the service in good shape, but by the time we reached the opening hymn, I couldn’t stand. Everything else was fine!  This time I saw a neurologist–who eventually diagnosed MS.

And so the roller coaster began.

I’ve been fortunate in that my form of MS has been relapsing-remitting…in other words, sometimes I’ve had flare-ups but they’ve gone away and I’ve been able to live fairly normally most of the time. For whatever reason, the last several years, my MS seems to be mostly in remission, and so sometimes it’s easier to forget about it.

But my definition of normal, though, doesn’t quite fit many others’ definitions.

  • I have to take a nap every day. It sounds great–and I’d probably love it more if it were by choice rather than necessity. But knowing that I have to do it makes it less appealing.
  • I can generally plan on taking part in events, but I still know that I may have to cancel without notice if my body decides to act up.
  • While I’m not on any special diet, I do need to watch my choice of foods. Some things really create havoc for me!
  • I have to get a flu shot every year…and I don’t particularly like needles!
  • If I do get sick, I need to watch my fever. Even though it would be better at times to let my body shake off whatever “bug” I’m dealing with by letting my fever take its course, that’s not always a good choice–because running a fever can cause the MS to act up again.
  • Extremes of temperature can be problematic. Obviously it’s easier to deal with cold–because I can always add more layers but can only take so many layers off in the heat. But heat can be a real disaster for me, especially since I do not perspire much.

But life is good.

And because I seem to have been blessed in the last few years–with more energy and functionality than I had when I was first diagnosed–I’ve decided to do something this year that I’ve never done before. The MS Society sponsors a fundraising walk every year, and our family has decided to create a team to take part. Part of the rationale for doing that is that there is a walk in our area–and it’s described as an “easy” walk (sure hope so!!). But part of it is to help raise awareness of the disease–and to do what I can to help raise funds to find ways of dealing with it.

So…I’m also inviting you to support our team, if you feel so inclined. More information on the walk and our team can be found here. If you feel like supporting us financially, that would be great. Otherwise, please understand that for those of us who live with chronic illnesses of whatever type–and our families–simply being present is sometimes the best gift you can offer.