When the Good Memories Outweigh the Grief: Tools of the Trade

more-toolsSix years ago, I wrote this letter, wiping the tears away after each line. Missing my dad and his goofy jokes, his heart for people, his beautiful tenor voice.

“Dear Dad,                                                                      1/7/11

Today would have been your 82nd birthday. It’s hard to believe you’ve been gone almost 10 years. Just thought I’d jot down the memories that have been playing through my mind today. From stories of your childhood, pranks you pulled in high school, lame and over-used jokes, to your tender heart for those experiencing troubles, you touched many with humor and love.

I experienced so many things because you felt strongly about showing Chris and me the world.  Many times we vacationed in places where significant time walking caused your legs to shake in pain all night, preventing sleep. Never did that hinder you from taking us to visit more beautiful and exciting places the next time, even enduring the long lines to the wild rides at King’s Island.

Your love of music has not been lost on me. I remember hearing you yell from the other room for me to stop singing and go to sleep. I was only four or five, but quoted the words from Redeemed, “I sing for I cannot be silent.” You tried to hold back a smile, but I knew you were proud that your love of music was in my heart. When I played in a recital or sang in church, no matter how many mistakes I made, you thought I was perfect. I’m not sure I can ever listen to someone else tune a piano without missing you.

I remember riding along in the big trucks with you to pick up gravel, lumber, hay from Ohio, or Sunday evenings on the bus transporting college students who were anxious about the narrow bridge across the river. “Just close your eyes like I do,” was your reassuring retort that brought laughs from some and nervous looks from others. Were you surprised when I got my CDL and drove a school bus?

When I made mistakes or bad choices, I knew you were disappointed, but you never stopped loving me. So many times you could have said you tried to warn me, but you didn’t. You weren’t perfect, and you never claimed to be, but your example showed me that nothing can separate me from God’s love.

Losing Chris changed you, as it did all of us, but in that most painful time of your life, when anger towards God might have been justified, you leaned on Him even more. Singing in The Messiah was something I looked forward to as a child, but the reality of it was even better. Watching tears stream down your face while you directed ‘Surely He has born our grief and carried our sorrow’ was evidence of your faith. Anyone who had any feelings couldn’t sing half-heartedly, knowing that you knew firsthand what grief and sorrow felt like. You always said you wanted to direct a choir of angels singing The Hallelujah Chorus when you got to heaven. I like to imagine you’re doing just that.

These are the things you taught me: Love God with every ounce of energy. Laugh. Sing. Love family. Laugh. Sing. Love people. Laugh. Sing. Serve others. Laugh. Sing. Be honest. Laugh. Sing. Work hard. Laugh. Sing. Enjoy coffee.

When I shared with your one-and-only granddaughter your story of fighting God’s call to preach because you wanted to be famous as a pianist, she said, “But Mom, Grandpa was famous.” She knows that you have touched, moved, and inspired students who are ministering for God around the world.

You live on in my heart!

Cheers! (With a cup of coffee, of course!)”

There is so much more to what he taught me, especially the coffee part, and one of those lessons smacked me in the face today. While it is unusual to have damp weather here in the desert, we have recently had plenty of rain. Consequently, my front door swelled a bit and was sticking, making it difficult to open, particularly for my mother. I finally remembered a DIY fix for the situation I learned from my dad, and stopped by my local hardware to look for some graphite powder. While I was browsing the store, I realized that my dad’s piano tuning tool kit (that I barely saved from being passed outside the family after dad passed) probably still had some, so I headed home.

Opening that case brought back a flood of memories like a forty-foot swell on a stormy ocean. It traveled to Papua New Guinea three times for dad to repair pianos for missionaries, completely funded by gifts from people who loved him. (One of those times, I got to go along and help him re-string the bass section of a piano and sing along with him in services.) It moved to Arizona with him when he left his beloved Kentucky mountains to retire and live near his one-and-only granddaughter. It probably recognized many of the curvy mountain roads, and I recognized the many familiar tools and the many spare parts he had saved because he would need them sometime. (I came by my hoarding issue naturally.)

As you can see in the photo above, the tuning fork is worn from more than 50 years of use. The mutes and felt strips, the tuning hammer have not been touched in years. The tool he designed and had made to more easily insert the cork straps, the clamp to reapply ivory on keys, the worn out sandpaper paddle are all idle. And there was the small black and blue oil applicator with graphite powder.

I smiled and remembered all the times I dutifully watched and learned as he worked his craft with pride in a job well done. And I felt grateful, and loved, and proud. More than the grief.

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Celebrating Life

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This past week, I celebrated the anniversary of the day I was born. No, I’m not saying how many anniversaries, but the years are adding up. (And for those who already know how many, SHUSH!) I have gotten in the habit of making a big deal of birthdays, thanks to my dad, who never forgot a special day, and always did his best to make sure the day was as special as the person being celebrated. As a child, we made trips to a nearby lake to fish and picnic, to a state park to swim, or he asked someone to make a special cake for me when I accompanied him on a preaching assignment. I also watched him celebrate my mother just because he loved her. (He was allergic to chocolate, but would always bring her a hot fudge sundae with nuts when he returned from the nearest town, seven miles away. That is LOVE!)

As an adult, there have been periods when I have heard friends diminish the value of celebrating birthdays, perhaps because they were shown that it’s just another day or they may feel embarrassed by the attention. Or the years are adding up and have negative feelings about aging. At any rate, I have always believed that everyone needs a special day to be honored. I frequently receive questioning looks when I plan to celebrate my day at Disneyland. I’m not sure what the problem is. I suppose if I were married, a quiet, romantic getaway might be more appropriate. Since I’m not, the excitement and joy of “The Happiest Place on Earth” is my choice, and I refuse to apologize for that.

Here’s why. The weight of work and responsibility can be overwhelming at times, and allowing myself to enjoy being around the wonder and excitement of children reminds me that play is an equally important part of life. One incident at the park this week confirmed this notion. Disneyland is celebrating 60 years of fun and imagination. (And before you get all bent out of shape about the money being made off of poor, unsuspecting consumers, hear me out.) While our party was situated at the front of a designated viewing spot waiting for the recently updated Electric Light parade to begin, a mother asked if two children could stand in front of us when the parade started. They had tried to view the first showing, and had been cut off by taller adults and were unable to lift the four-year-olds for an extended period of time so they could still see. We gladly agreed, and made room for them in front of us. Little did we know that these two girls would provide as much, if not more, entertainment as the parade. They shared the exiting parts of their day, showing us their autograph books and naming the characters who had signed them. They got excited for every character in the parade, and when we saw the two characters from Frozen coming toward us, and asked who they were, they both, in unison, with all the energy they had, raised their arms, jumped up and down, and screamed, “Anna and Elsa, Anna and Elsa,” at the top of their lungs.

Whether you’re a fan of all-things-Disney or not, witnessing this childlike joy and excitement put life into perspective. When did life become mundane? Why do we let the mundane take away our joy and excitement so often? When did we decide that adults don’t act like that? I have so much in my life for which to get excited. I have to return to reality, but how can I make it exciting every day? I have a career I truly love. I have coworkers and clients who inspire me. I have family and friends who stand by me through thick and thin. I want to be exited about the “normal” in life and celebrate that life each day.

As these thoughts were meandering around my brain, another situation came to my attention. In recent years, the term “funeral” is spoken less regarding the formal gathering for a loved one or friend who has died, and the description “celebration of life” is used in its place. I’ve been to some of these events and they are truly celebrations of what the deceased has accomplished or the love he or she shared while alive. (The service for my paternal grandmother was one of those.) I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, and I know that many shared their feelings and thoughts while the loved one was still alive. I want to take on the challenge of celebrating others when they can hear or read my words and “feel the love.”

So … how about taking on this challenge with me. I dare you to handwrite a letter or card. To a coworker who has made your load lighter or shown strength of character. To a friend  who is always willing to hear about your difficult days. To a family member who needs to know they are important enough to hear some sweet words from you. (Not an email or text alone. A handwritten note. Please.) Celebrate life now. Before someone is gone and you’re saying those things for your own comfort. (Not that that isn’t okay, as well. But really. Do it now.)

IMG_0720If there is any business who takes celebrating life seriously fun, it’s Disney. You may not believe in some of the concepts they support, but you have to agree that their mission is celebrating life, and cast members are taught to carry it out. And there is no requirement of proof. I wore my “It’s my Birthday!” button three days, and I can tell you it is very special when hundreds, including other guests, offered greetings. Two different eating establishments offered small, free desserts. (Not to mention, feeding my roller coaster addiction.) On top of that, more than 100 friends took the time to acknowledge my special day on social media. I feel truly loved, and I have pictures and notes to go back and read on days when the chatter in my head has me believing differently. (I know I’m not the only one who hears the negative chatter.)

Celebrate others. Allow others to celebrate you! Get excited about who you are and what you have to offer. I would dare to wager that if you’re excited about your life, those who matter will get excited with and for you.