Thursday, May 05, 2005

Her Chronometer Is Becoming Her Speedometer

With this post I am moving to a monthly submission. I appreciate the support so many give. I believe readership is high for such a narrow cast as this blog provides (Nearly 400 page views in the first month). The slightly slower tempo allows more time to sharpen my work. At the same time it will give me the opportunity to continue constructing "Sandy's Castle." I will email updates as they occur. Thank you.

May I send a tribute to our mom this Mother’s Day?

What an unusual person our mother is. I am proud to say her music-teaching career, which began during the post-war 40’s, continues until today. That is seven consecutive decades of Hanon exercises! (Not much Bartok, I’ll bet!)

In a recent email to her, I reminded her that some careers, like professional athletes, are over by 35. Other careers, while they aren't over at 60, determine their maximum impact long before then. Mom’s career, as well as her life, began picking up speed at 70.

A strong and independent woman, she lives her life in the face of great danger. She is in danger of confusing her age with the speed she wants to live her life. It appears her chronometer is becoming her speedometer.

I could recite the number of things mom did to support our family. They, however, are events. From the days before Solomon penned Proverbs 31, humankind knew a virtuous mother not by what she did, but by how she did them.

Time reveals virtue, the excellence of life in a woman. Bathed in the heat that creates the purest diamonds, it takes the patience of time to release the purest colors and the greatest brilliance.

When I say that mom has been long-suffering, please do not see a little, old woman wobbling down the sidewalk carrying a loaf of bread from the A & P. She isn’t the poor woman in jeopardy of charlatans and panhandlers. You have to understand. She puts up with the five of us.

There was the time one of my siblings gave her a phone that didn’t ring. It quacked! (Her childhood nickname was “Ducky”).

There was the time I teased her without mercy at a large restaurant in Kansas City. (Oh, wait, she got back by starting a food fight in the middle of the restaurant dining room.)

However, (dare I say it?) the longest running joke is the bird of destiny and the albatross of her fate she unleashed on herself. We never let her forget the feathered mascot that will forever be associated with her in our memory.

Our teasing is in good spirit. After all, we aren’t making fun of her. We are having a humorous interlude at her expense.

She has to be honest. She provides so much of the material for us.

In 1995 she opened her home to a foreign exchange student from Germany. You would expect her to get a girl, right? Nope, she got a 17-year-old boy! Here is this sharp dressing widow and her new male hunk of a houseguest. Talk about an opportunity for some humorous interludes. It got even better when he broke his arm and couldn’t dress himself!

She enjoyed the trips they took as she taught him about Texas. I suspect there is a young man in Germany that knows more about the Lone Star State than many redneck Bubbas raised on bar-b-que and frijoles.

Her testing isn’t always at the hand of humor. She watched as one by one, each of her children moved from our hometown to other cities and states to build their lives. Viki and I were the first. We took her grandchildren to Minnesota just a scant six months after dad died.

My brother lives north of Houston and makes noises about Alaska. My oldest sister lives so close to Mexico she carries a dual citizenship in case she rolls over in bed. Sister number two lives south of San Antonio in a town that thinks Wal-Mart is a shopping mall. Our baby sister just announced her plans to move to DC to help ol’ George out.

I am sure Mom would like to have her chicks around her, but parenting isn’t about tying children to your apron strings. It is more about fastening knots with your heartstrings.

Apron strings break. Heartstrings stretch. Apron strings drag children around. Heartstrings allow children to grow, explore and, at the end of the day, bring life lessons back to the whole family.

I started this to tell you about this unusual woman who travels the world when most others her age are looking for a retirement center. I planned to tell you about a career that is speeding up while others in her generation have long ago put aside their tools of the trade.

In fact, I am unable to describe this woman I have known for 55 years in 900 words. A talented and experienced musician? Absolutely. A skilled and accomplished teacher? Without question, unless you are an administrator in the Bay City school district who wouldn’t know a real educator if s/he walked up and slammed a McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader shut on their nose! A seasoned world traveler? In the past 20 years, she has regaled us with tales of her numerous trips to England and Scotland, as well as journeys to Spain, Thailand, and Egypt with a cruise down the “Blue Danube” thrown in. A fresh itinerary lists China as the next destination.

Instead, I want to give this tribute to my mom.

When the Lord called Dad home, she looked around and said there was too much life to live and a High School daughter to raise. She has done that and more since she began the widow’s journey.

Mom shares one constant with many women and men who become suddenly single due to the death of a mate. There may be days of loneliness, but they aren’t alone. Memories fill the quiet times. Common goals, once shared with a significant person, are still just as important. When under-girded by an abiding faith, their life doesn’t end. It changes.

Our parents are the first people we meet. It is only right they are the ones we admire and want to be like.

She is, and I do.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The New Stuff

The forty-two voice “Hallelujah! Kids Choir” presented their spring musical this evening. The production, “Who is like the Lord,” featured contemporary praise music and custom-crafted dialogue for our children and our church. The voices of youth and optimism filled the building as they sang and quoted scripture.

As usual, they made the leadership look stronger than we really are.

There were a few moments of adventure. Children made decisions to do things they never did during practice. It wasn’t possible to stop and correct. We just continued and enjoyed the creativity and responsiveness of those young hearts.

The music was difficult at times. Contemporary rhythms are hard for me to count and even harder for me to teach. For the most part, they grasped them immediately.

The parallel “Praise and Worship” format our church uses made our job easy. There was no disconnect between what we asked the children to do and what they hear on a regular basis in the worship services.

I know that some dismiss the contemporary praise and worship style as “7-11 music” (you sing the same seven words eleven times). I won’t deny that at first glance some of the music found in “P & W” services may come across as meager. After spending over 18 months as part of our church’s worship leadership team, I do not share the desire to dismiss the music as shallow and lacking in life-changing content.

However, I do reflect on my journey into this “new stuff.”

The church culture that nurtured me reflected the strong work ethic of the members who lived through two great defining events. The Great Depression shook the nation to its very core. A whole nation found itself having to work everyday just to get by. There was no guarantee about tomorrow. There was only today.

This prepared the nation for a complete commitment needed to win a war fought on a global battlefield. Every sector of national life rewrote its purpose to include doing what was necessary to defeat the enemy. Families sent loved ones off facing the fear the generation they birthed and nurtured would not return.

The church needed a hope to hold as well as a hope that held.

Our music gave promise. We sang of our hope in the hereafter. “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks,” and “Shall We Gather At the River” recently comforted me when I questioned how much journey was left in my life.

My childhood memories recall songs that exhorted us. “We’ll Work ‘Till Jesus Comes,” “Are Ye Able,” and “Toiling On” ingrained in our heart that free grace is but one side of God’s coin of the realm. The other side reminded us we had a responsibility to do our part in building the kingdom.

To be sure, we had our “Praise and Worship” music. “Holy, Holy, Holy” still reverberates in my soul as does “To God Be The Glory.” The music of my heritage often made great theological statements. Some were a whole systematic theology as in the marathon hymn “One Day.”

A few of the hymns made the transition. They are still part of our church’s musical literature. “Amazing Grace” is destined to live on through the ages. “It Is Well With My Soul” will comforts the heart of the grieving and discouraged for generations to come.

Whether we sang songs of testimony (“Whosoever Surely Meaneth Me”), songs of divine protection (“No, Never Alone”), or words intended to encourage a decision (“Only Trust Him”), these songs became a part of my spiritual heritage. Sometimes I miss them. They are “the stuff” of my religious heritage.

One of the biggest raps against the generation that leads the church today is that it is selfish. Some say we want it given to us and we believe the church ought to pay for it.

If that charge is true, then the accusatory voices should take great comfort in the “Praise and Worship” format. Every time we meet, our musicians remind us that community church worship isn’t about us. Whether we sing “What A Mighty God We Serve,” “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High,” “Awesome God,” “Holy Ground,” or “Majesty,” we are humbled in the presence of the Almighty.

I suspect that some Sundays I am not alone when I miss “my stuff.” I get nostalgic for the songs of my youth. However, when I am in the position of worship leader and I see the church energized by music designed to replace the issues of this world with eternal ones, I am loath to return to that more familiar worship format, as comfortable as it was.

My children’s choir stood before more than 200 worshippers last night and proclaimed, “This God, He is our God.” They sang, “He knows my name.” The children’s voices literally shouted “Nobody” when they asked, “Who is like the Lord.” A young man led the night off with a contemporary systematic theology of his own as he sang “I believe in a risen Savior.” A relationship with the divine was affirmed when they stated, “Jesus, you are my best friend.”

I may miss “my stuff,” but the “new stuff” I have in common with the children of my church is a reminder to me. Childhood biblical lessons, resting on scripture and set to music, still serve me well. That style of teaching works today, regardless whether the rhythm is accented with a trap set and a few bass guitar riffs