Monday, December 24, 2012

The Bells of Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and I wanted to give something to friends and neighbors to express my love and my testimony of the Savior whose birth we celebrate. How about some Christmas music?  

First, if you want to hear the closest thing I've found to what the angel's must have sounded like announcing Christ's birth, listen to Eric Whitacre's,

Lux Aurumque

Second, a piece I wrote, but it needs a little background first. I participated in a neighborhood Christmas concert on November 30th of this year and was inspired by the story shared before we sang an arrangement of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." It was a retelling of the story originally told during Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert (you can watch the segment here).  To summarize, the family of the well-known poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were living a happy normal life when tragedy struck in 1861. In the Summer of that year, their house caught fire and took the life of Fanny, Henry's wife. In trying to rescue her, Henry received burns to his hands and face.
...For Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as [civil war] rages without, another [war] raged within. For the next two years, Christmases come and go. Henry writes: "How inexpressibly sad are all the holidays. 'A merry Christmas,' say the children. But that is no more for me. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."
Then, two years later, Henry learns his son who ran away to join the army has been wounded. He finds his son barely alive after days of searching in Washington.
We should not be surprised that on Christmas day, 1863, Henry reaches for his pen and writes: "It was as if an earthquake rent the hearthstones of a continent. And in despair I bowed my head. 'There is no peace on earth,' I said. For hate is strong, and mocks the song of 'peace on earth, good will to men.'"
Listening to the story, I thought of how painful holidays can be for those who have recently lost someone dear.  The sound of Christmas bells, to Henry, must have stirred feelings of sorrow and loss, not celebration. I wonder when that changed for him.  When did he come to the place where he could remember what he felt shortly after his wife's death,
 So strong is the sense of her presence upon me that I should hardly be surprised to look up now and see her in the room. Death is a beginning. Not an end. 
When did that feeling resurface and come together to change the ringing of bells to a hopeful sound?  That is exactly what the bells went on to symbolize for Henry and his family; what the lyrics he wrote have come to remind us.  As Ed Herrman read so beautifully,
In those bells the message is clear. On Christmas day, a Child was born in a stable. Of that Child Henry writes: "Though in a manger Thou draw breath, Thou art greater than life and death." And so He is! As the bells ring on, Henry dips his pen again, and again. Because Christmas lives on, Fanny lives on, Charles lives on, a nation lives on, and we, each one of us, may live on as well, in hope and peace forever.

Three days after this concert Adam and I were to play prelude, postlude and a few musical numbers at a memorial night put on by a hospice for the families of those who had passed during the year.  

As fate would have it, Adam got bronchitis the night before the Christmas Concert and couldn't sing in the choir (after two months of rehearsing :) or do the hospice music, but I was told by the hospice that I could do the gig as a solo. While pondering a new program sans Adam, I couldn't help feeling that the story behind the words Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote and the song itself, would be perfect for those mourning the recent loss of a loved one.  Now that I knew the emotions and events behind Longfellow's words, though, the melodies and arrangements I found of "I Heard the Bells" did not feel right.  I wanted something I could sing and play for these families that would express that loss of a loved one, and then the hope made possible through Christ. 

The piece I played for the hospice I still don't feel has found that "sweet spot," but I thought I'd share its current version before the season is over.  

 "The Bells of Christmas"



(Yes, the link is gone to Bells of Christmas ... maybe it'll be back next year? Needs...scrubbing!)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Great New Family Reading List!

I rarely post things of this nature, but I was just made aware of a new resource that I'm so excited about I had to share.  There is a new online list of classic books (what I mean by that word is not necessarily that they're old, but that they're worth reading more than once).  The best part is, the list is divided into stages of life the books are best suited for, are pictured and linked to Amazon so you can quickly compare prices and read reviews.

I guess I don't have any more excuses for wondering what the best book for my age of children would be to read next in our family group study.  Now it's just narrowing it down to one!

 Click here to check it out!

A big thank you to Diann Jeppson!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Our First Relationship

I don't see coincidences as much as loving guidance and tender mercies these days. I woke up a few mornings ago, determined to give more time to my relationship with God as I had let the busyness of life once again turn those efforts into quick and perfunctory actions. The tender mercy came when a scripture I read in the place I happened to be, led me to ask a random question, "why is it always stated 'the law and the prophets'?" which led me to type in that phrase in the search engine of (my favorite site these days).  The first search result that I clicked on happened to have not much to do with my question, but touched me so profoundly that I actually copied by hand, four pages of the selection in my dragonfly journal.  That would be a record.  It just didn't feel right to stop until then, it was all so relevant and I wanted to have it handy to soak into my skin for days and weeks and months to come. As the days go by, it continues to apply in varying ways to my life, but also to the culture and world I find myself living in. I keep feeling like posting it here as the next in my series of "Words That Move Me," but decided there is nothing I can or should say about it as that would muddy application for others.  So, I'll just share it. You're welcome to find this a nice quote but not be sure why I would be so moved by it.  You're also welcome to heartily disagree. Timing is everything.  At this time in my life, I find it profound and a perfect capstone to the theme of most of my previous posts.
    The first commandment does not read,

Friday, September 7, 2012

Words That Move Me...(Part 3)

Snapshots . . . 

 A four-year-old cherub gives you three juicy kisses on your cheek while you tell her a "real story" at bedtime. When you go to leave, she tells you her version of a "real story" while stroking your hair, placing a strand now and then behind your ear.

A sweet, green, little parrotlet chooses to fly across the room to your shoulder. You feel her nestle in your loose, long hair as you sit at the piano, giving comfort and support during your wrestle to memorize a new sonata.

A son who usually is too shy to show love to his mama, volunteers to break away from the family group to go with you while you exchange an item. He surprises you by taking your hand in his, holding it the entire time you walk through the mall.

Victor Hugo

All these and other recent tastes of "divine love," have brought a growing feeling I thought was indescribable until I read Victor Hugo's words for it in Les Miserables recently:
The heart, that dark celestial flower, bursts into a mysterious bloom . . . You are caressed through the soul. You see nothing, but you feel yourself adored.
(Book Five, Chapter IV, P.167)

Once again, I felt gratitude for an author's ability to express what I did not know how to.  That "mysterious bloom" is such a perfect phrase for it.  Like you're tapping into a stream of divinity. Like pure Light is flooding inside that "dark celestial flower" of your heart.

I expected a good story when I committed to read Les Miserables with a dear friend who I often enjoy sharing good books with, but I didn't expect I'd be underlining, rereading and pondering so many passages.  (Not all the pondering has been in agreement with the author, but I had better stick to my topic.)

The past week, I have found myself reading over and over the two pages where the above quote is found. As I pondered the paragraphs, a memory put away long ago resurfaced and brought a familiar regret. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Words That Move Me...(Part 2)

A favorite companion in the group study my children and I do each day is what we call our "Little Red Poem Book."  It has been called that since I was little when my mother read from it to her five children.  I'll be devastated if I can't find a red, hardback version for my children when they leave the nest (it's actually called, One Hundred And One Famous Poems and published by Contemporary Books, copyright 1958 if anyone wants to know).  There is a unique pleasure in opening the book, flipping through to see which old friend I want to read again, looking at the notes scrawled in the margins, reading the inscription from my mother when she gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday: 
"Thought my precious 16-year-old patch rabbit would enjoy her very own copy of our "little red poem book" . . . We've created lots of family memories with this little book, haven't we? Continue discovering new treasures in it and keep all our memories close to your heart." 
We did create many memories, Marmee. I do keep them close. I do discover new treasures, even in the old friends - like this week. 

I hadn't read "The Building of the Ship" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow since before I was married.  As I started reading to my children, I found that life's experiences since last reading had given me memories that illuminated the meaning of the poem on a deeper level than before.  It's like AHK says:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Words That Move Me...(Part 1)

I find it nothing short of a miracle how symbols scratched or printed on a page can stir our reservoir of emotion and memory; how inky shapes can come alive in our minds so that they penetrate our very being, changing the landscape, expanding the view. When I read or hear words that pull out something like a distant memory from my soul, I come to feel a kinship with the spokesman; either because they are the mouthpiece of such words that hint at truths I feel I've known before, or because there is a kind of kinship in our common experience that my memories confirm.

It is of the latter variety, that I feel when reading the passage I'll share in this post. (Click here for part 2)

My first experience with death was as a young girl of fourteen.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Check it out!

I was asked to be a part of the "I was Homeschooled" series of videos on a newly launched site called The HEV Project.  The creators are excited to get the word out about this project which currently has over 300 videos on various topics for youth and families to explore and learn from!  Many of the videos you can view for free, for the rest, you can choose several membership options.  For anyone who reads this blog, they've offered 20% off the yearly subscription when you input this code: hevbloggers. Hurry, though, the code expires August 31st . . .

There are other great resources and opportunities there as well, like book reviews, book lists and coming in September there will be:

Videos on how to debate 
with a forum to help youth practice their skills. 

A writing critique forum 
where youth can submit things they've written to be critiqued by other aspiring authors.  

Monthly contests 
for inventions, music composition, poetry etc. 
with cash prizes!

For doing the video I was given a year of membership (wahoo!) and my kids have enjoyed this week watching videos in the World Geography and Guitar sections.  You should check it out!  

P.S. Shh....For those who read to the end of my posts (and the small print at that) there is a giveaway for a free month of membership on The HEV Project - just be the first to email  and I'll give them your name and email so they can register you :).

Friday, July 20, 2012

It Isn't About Jealousy

Have you ever had someone push their friendship on you?  Maybe you have felt before what it was like to want a friendship more than the person you had a desire to be friends with? You call them and they are always in a hurry to end the conversation.  You find over time that you are always the first to initiate any contact. You feel the more you try to be their friend, the more they push away or distance themselves.  You might hope to share an idea with them, might see how fun it would be to work on a project together that you both have interest in, but it's always, "Someday, sure."

Maybe you want to help that friend?  Maybe you have found some answers to problems they are facing and try to offer advice or guidance, but you can never get to the heart of the matter because they take your words lightly and you feel how fruitless it would be to go further.

Maybe they let you step in when there are times of great need, when their life is in crisis, but in the little daily interactions, you don't feel welcome or wanted. You just hope someday the help you give in a crisis will open the door to a deeper bond.

How does it feel to be in this situation?  Do you usually relent and give up, or at best, you wait in the "background" of life, your hand "stretched out" ready whenever they have a desire to come to you?  Do you learn to let them lead? Do you decide to let them choose how deep or shallow your influence or your relationship with them will be? 

I believe this is how God feels.  He wants to help us; wants to be close to our thoughts; to have influence on our life; to work with us on a common goal. Yet, we place other things before Him.

Relationships boil down to time spent 
and we make very little for Him. 

I believe the commandment against idolatry is not about God being jealous. I have come to believe it is rooted in the principle that, ". . . if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them."  I think God would say to us, "I can't help you because you've placed your time and trust in things less powerful than me. You've reduced my power over your life." God won't push himself on us.  He waits for us.  He values our agency too much.

Where this comparison breaks down is that God isn't like other friends.  No matter how good, they will never know us like He knows us.  No other can feel not only sympathy, but real empathy for our sorrows, trials and pains; for the consequences of our mistakes - none like Him.  The more we trust God has the power to deliver us, the more we believe he is omnipotent - all powerful - the more we will find there is nothing he cannot deliver us from.

Yet, with our finite minds we think we know the best way to be delivered.  With our limited vision we always want to reach the destination that we can see.  God, though, sees beyond the horizon. He knows what form the best deliverance must take.  Will we trust Him?

When he asks us to endure longer, do we believe His timing is in our favor?  If he asks us to drop our "pack of supplies and run," will we trust that He will provide a better and more sufficient sustenance ahead?

We will . . . only if there is a relationship.  I've found it begins by giving God the benefit of the doubt.  It begins by believing he has joy for us as his goal.  As I do that, I grow to see the evidences that prove that belief true.  Just as with a friend, unless you already know and believe what you've been told about them by others, you won't believe they are worthy of your trust without first giving them ample time and opportunity to "show you their colors." The more time you give, the deeper the trust, the greater the influence and power to change your life.

I guess it all boils down to one thing: Time 

Will we give God ours?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Of Bikes and . . . Music, of course!

I went on an outdoor bike ride this morning all by myself.  How have I let a decade pass since doing more than just biking to the park with kids?!  The joints and cartilage in my body don't seem to have much staying power so the kinds of exercise I have been reduced to doing is low impact, strengthening or stretching types of activities - all of which are convenient at my local recreation center, but I think I've sheltered myself for too long.

After spending an hour fixing inner tubes,
taking off old child seats, failing to fix training wheels, adjusting chains and helmet straps yesterday so that my children and I could go on a little bike ride - only to turn back after ten minutes - I felt like a need had been bottled and a large cork shoved into it.  This same thing happened the day before when we took the kids up the mountain with my aunt, cousin and parents, only to turn back before getting very far.  I felt fit to burst.  Every effort to exert myself in the beautiful summer weather, among the trees and grass and flowers had been thwarted!  It was a real feeling of pressure building inside me from this unsatisfied desire that was only growing stronger.  So... I took off!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Professionals Only

Today is a Barber-Violin-Concerto-Andante-movement kind of day.  I've soaked my ears in this sound as I have brushed a few coats of polyurethane on my hubby's new "sound upgrade" workbench he'll use for some booths at Suzuki Institutes this month.  The two activities were good therapy. I let Gil Shaham and the London Symphony Orchestra speak to me like a friend full of empathy while I put on an outer protective coating.

I took a class last Fall that delved into my core books and beliefs.  I then took a similar class the next two semesters and as part of them, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Thus my neglect of this blog.  I now find myself on a summer break, mourning the fact that the classes are over and feeling just plain grumpy. 

So it feels like the perfect time to vent about something I've been stewing over for a while.  There.  Now that you're the only one reading further, Marmee, I can just say what I want to and not worry about all the editing and revising I'd go through for more judgmental "ears."