Wednesday, November 08, 2017

My Father's Poems

Some of you know I was born and raised in a singing family. I was the last of eight children and the only daughter of a preacher-poet father and missionary-minded stay-at-home mother. I have never known anyone who worked harder than my folks, both who were raised on farms by parents who instilled in them the very strong work-ethic of their Mennonite ancestors. Dad, as a pastor, teacher, preacher, inventor, mechanic, songwriter and poet; Mom as a nurturer, servant, laundry-tamer, canner, cinnamon bun baker, reader, letter-writing, pot-roasting aficionado. Yet while they worked tirelessly, both my parents were Contemplatives in their own right. They both spent many long hours (together and alone) reading and studying the scripture, and down on their knees in prayer, interceding for their family, friends, needs, wisdom, and for the Gospel to advance in the world.

From the time I was 18 months old until I was 19 years old, our family travelled and sang at various churches, camps, nursing homes and community events across the USA and Canada. By the time we stopped touring and Dad accepted a pastorate, we had visited 47 states and seven Canadian provinces. During that time he wrote hundreds of poems and songs of faith and comfort, and the family made seven vinyl recordings (and one cassette tape) with an average of 18 songs on each album. We also published a song book and a poem book of favorites, including a number of Dad's original works under the auspices of "Radiant Light Enterprises." We traveled under the name "The Nickel Family Singers."

To honor the desire of my oldest brother to preserve our father's legacy, I accepted the task of transcribing all our Dad's poems to make them more widely accessible. I began posting them on a blog called, "My Father's Poems." Well it grew, as these projects tend to do, and as I was seeing the end of the stack of my dad's poems, I  expanded it to include some of his songs, sermons, and now, I've begun to create videos of our family recordings, linking them to the lyrics on the blog.

As for our musical style, Dad valued four part harmony and lyrics based firmly upon scripture. His poetry style uses traditional meter and rhyme, fashioned after a century of the hymns that had become so dear to him. Though we lived smack dab in the center of gospel music country, the family sang more "hymnal" style than southern gospel. In our later ministry years, as contemporary Christian music began to explode, the younger offspring did introduce music from their generation into our programs.

With all that as background, I'm happy to share a bit of nostalgia with a video I created to go along with one of the songs we recorded, "Peace Like a River." My brothers fell in love with this song from a Blackwood Brothers' recording. It was recorded by the older boys' quartet on our third album. Enjoy!

Click here to go to the video and blog post: "Peace Like a River"

If you like what you hear/see and want to explore more, click here: My Father's Poems. Read older posts, Search by subject and key words, or Subscribe in the right side bar to receive new poems and songs by email as they are published.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dear Younger Me

I recently was honored to do an interview with my friend Kevann Carter for the podcast, "Grow on the Go" (Season 2, Episode 7). In it, we discuss the question: "What would you say to your younger self?" My answer, along with some of the difficult lessons I learned, can be heard on this half-hour podcast.

For those of you who have found your way to this blog from the podcast, Welcome!

You may be wondering, "What happened to your first marriage?" We didn't address that part of my story in the interview, but you can read about it (and the aftermath) here, here and here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Set An Example

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

“Don’t let?” You can’t stop others from thinking whatever it is they choose to think. None of us can. Age (youth or maturity) has very little to do with controlling the viewpoints of others about us. Paul also isn’t giving Timothy license to rebuke others for looking down on him.

But let’s not focus so much on the first sentence that we overlook the primary point the Apostle Paul is trying to make with the “dear son” he is mentoring. He speaks in a way that is based on their relationship: deeply loving, mentor to student, a caring father instructing his prodigy.

Indulge your sanctified imagination for a moment to consider how Paul is helping this young man, the son he loves, understand how to be most effective in his life and ministry. Paul says there’s a proven way to avoid others looking down on you: Don’t act your age, like your peers are doing. Don’t be immature and inconsiderate, but rather, in the way you live, be your best self. In the larger context around verse 12, Paul says, “Train yourself to be godly (v. 7), put your hope in the living God (v. 10), devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching (v. 13). Exercise your gift (v. 14), be diligent so others can see your progress (v. 15).”

I can picture Paul with his arm around his young student, urging him: “Be the example others can point to and say, look how well he speaks, look at how he conducts himself with such integrity! So loving, so full of faith and true doctrine!” (v. 16)

So I offer this paraphrase, Paul’s instruction as a loving mentor, for us to receive and apply in our own lives:

Don’t live in a way that gives others reasons to look down on you. Be mature. Set the example. Ignore the distraction of how others live, what others think, what they may say about you. Keep your eyes on Jesus and live in integrity. Keep reading and studying God’s word. Trust Him with your reputation. Release the urge to defend yourself. Give up your need to explain yourself. Haters gonna hate. You live right anyway.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime

There are a number of bumper-sticker quotes like the one in this picture. While I generally agree with what it says, the exact opposite type of person can sometimes be a conundrum that won't go away, even making it difficult to try to be our best selves. I'm more drawn to the idea of relationships being for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

I've had great conversations with total strangers whom I would never see again, who taught me nothing but we enjoyed the moment together. If you want to learn and grow and be present, you can find something for which to be grateful about every encounter.

Some people more readily serve as blessing-bringers. Others more readily teach you lessons (positive or negative). Sometimes both. Sometimes neither. Live is very rarely "all or nothing." I believe I can learn something from every person who intersects my path, even if it is just learning how to set a healthy boundary.

So I try to be as alert and present as I'm able to be in each moment, in each encounter. To move gently, listen more than speak, act in loving ways, to learn, to share, to grow, to give, to receive. To, above all, be whole-heartedly human.

When I posted the above on Facebook, here are a few responses:

"We may not always meet and interact with people for our benefit. We may meet for theirs. We may never know." ~Anna-Marie

"I've always felt encounters are like the flowers in a garden, some only blossom briefly, others blossom year after year. But all bring joy and a bright spot to my life. Now my job is to blossom to bring joy to others!" ~Elaine

"I fall in love with strangers all the time - you know what I mean? Something in them is a certain je ne sais quoi and I identify or I desire that quality. I remember an elderly English man at the checkout at (the grocery store) and he was kind and charming to everyone around and I just wanted to take him home for the way he made me feel." ~Melora

In response to Melora, Cathy writes, "I know exactly what you mean! I've met people, while travelling, or just crossing paths briefly, and I know we would be great friends in different circumstances."

What's your experience? Are there more things would you add or change?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Back to Basics

The brow furrows, the logic stalls,
the blood boils, the teeth grind.

Sounds like the hot place,
but happens every day on facebook.
Those wrestling with issues
of money, sex and power
and/or faith and doubt
won't accept poetic words.

Sometimes that crowd includes me.

Back to basics:
"Be still and know I am God."

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Tiles of Time

Gratitude is the birthplace of joy. 
~Brené Brown

Ten years ago, while house-hunting on Thanksgiving weekend, I toured the house that would become my home. Two disparate things captivated me: the panoramic mountain view and the unique ceramic tile in the master bedroom with its indigo-and-linen pattern adorning the fireplace.

As I wake today from a rare Sunday afternoon nap, the low sun casts a golden spotlight through the open window onto those eclectic tiles that remind me (then, and every day since) of a warm, joy-filled vacation through Cinque Terre, Italy.

Much has transpired in those ten years: birthdays, holiday celebrations, graduation, empty nest, road trips, reunions, weddings, dear visitors, grief and loss, sleepless nights, tears, prayers. I strive to tuck each one into the cedar chest of life memories. Major events coexist alongside the innocuous beauty of brief moments: a gentle word, lingering sunsets, breathtaking sky, small blooms, tender glances, echoes of song and laughter, surprises, campfires, a first-year raspberry, juicy watermelon and faithfulness. Each one, observed, becomes a good and perfect gift, no matter how tiny, squirrelled away in a precious nook or safe cranny of memory's trove.

Treasures and sadness, light and dark, joy and mourning; these are not opposites, but complementary. I do not despise one for the sake of the opposite. One cannot exist without the other, not until eternity. I seek to embrace both extremes and all the various in-betweens, since we mostly live the greater fraction of our lives in the un-sensational middle-ground of Average.

For all of these gifts, and the mosaic they make of my life, may I be truly grateful. Amen.