How Great Thou Art (amidst the mess)

(While Governing Ana is not a Christian blog, it contains unapologetic Christian content today. You are warned. Please return tomorrow for secular content.)

Earlier posts referenced:

I won’t talk about the details, but my dad has slipped into serious territory. He gets sicker and sicker, and instead of improving in the ICU he has required more intervention.

It’s pretty scary.

I’ve been vilified by a few toxic people for removing them from my life. (They know about my dad’s illness but don’t care, and my dad is more important.) While I made the best decision in a bad circumstance, the unfair assumptions hurt.

The quilting grannies have enveloped me in their love, warmth, and outrageous silliness. They have become so precious to me, and I am grateful for their laughter. I said to them, “It’s so nice to come here for a few hours where the biggest problem is forgetting whose turn is next.” One said I’d made her day, but the opposite was true, too.

Shrove Tuesday brought its annual pancake dinner with a huge turnout. Such a large group meant not getting to talk to many people (more than a pleasantry), but it was a wonderful sense of community.

I’m grateful that this week of difficult news and drama has coincided with Ash Wednesday and three days of church activities. I’m busy, as usual, and can’t spare the time to go to church each day. But in this time of fear, worry, and heartache, that’s where I most need to go. The benefit of an older congregation is that most of my friends have lost one or both parents, if not a spouse as well. When I talk about my dad, they’ve all been there. They’ve visited the hospital, fought with medical staff for safe treatment, and worried through scary procedures. They’ve been there, and they’re okay now. It makes this terrifying time seem more normal and less out of control. At least a little.

In other news, I’ve been saving picking up my violin for the perfect moment. I needed to clean up my living room, or I had to sort out my music. Or I had to take down my Christmas tree (don’t judge) or arrange everything to create a music corner in my office.

Instead, when I heard the latest news about my dad, I started humming How Great Thou Art.

I can’t honestly say it’s my dad’s favorite hymn, but it’s a favorite hymn of many from my parent’s generation. I had this sudden conviction that he was going to die right now, I needed to call him, and I’d play How Great Thou Art for him over the phone.

*cue Hollywood sentimental background music, swelling into a triumphant crescendo*

Sadly, no.

I haven’t played seriously in many years. I haven’t played at all for almost seven. I used to devote up to seven or eight hours a day to practice, rehearsal, and lessons.

Last night, amidst the gigantic mess known as De-Cluttering My Home, I said forget it.  I want my violin now.

I opened the case, took out the shoulder rest, and set it up. I tightened the bow hair and applied rosin.

Just tuning the strings was a challenge!

Then a tiny miracle happened. My metronome with its A440 tuning pitch, which I assumed had broken (it’s so old I can’t remember when I got it), was good as new when I put in a new battery.

I tuned.

And, because the violin had lain unused for so many years, it promptly went out of tune.

I tuned the strings again, slowly and carefully.

Then I stood up and started with a scale. A long, luxurious, slow scale (only two octaves, not the usual three) waltzing through whole notes, quarter notes, and working its way up to sixteenth notes. My wrist didn’t oblige and the shoulder rest didn’t sit quite right.

I felt like Leila picking up her violin after her injury and forced rest (though, of course, Leila is a professional musician of world-class caliber, and I am a former student musician who once had dreams of teaching).

My violin quivered. With joy, I think. It’s been neglected for so long that it can’t have been happy.

Normally, and especially after such a long hiatus, I would have continued with another scale or two plus some etudes before touching any performance piece. But nostalgia gripped me, and I started playing (from memory) one of my recital pieces.

My wrist, shoulder, and arm said No! in a resounding chorus.

I printed out the sheet music from Cyber Hymnal for How Great Thou Art, and I played through the melody line.

(It’s an awful setting for violin, by the way.)

I played through it twice, and then I thought…I can’t let anyone hear this. Not when I used to be one of the most promising students in my orchestra.

Then I read through the lyrics. I’ve never paid attention to much beyond the refrain:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou Art!

This time, though, the last verse jumped out at me.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation

And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!

Then I shall bow in humble adoration,

And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

And nope, I couldn’t do it. I should probably be a good Christian and say God’s will be done, but nope. It’s not my father’s time to go. I, Ana Vitsky, issue this decree.

Even though I wrote my prayer request for church saying I want him well, but I don’t want him to suffer.

Mostly, I’d like for family drama to melt away in a wonderful, storybook fashion. I’d like for egos and pettiness to make room for the unmoving, unchanging, and eternal love parents and children have for each other. No matter what happens, no matter how much hurt exists, and even if considerations of safety make contact difficult–even if the external relationship is severed–we never lose love for our child or parent.


It took a visit to my father in the ICU to realize that I don’t owe anyone anything. If other people want to drag me into their dramas, I don’t have to participate. They can and are hurling abuse at me for walking away, but they’re not my parents. They’re not family, and they don’t deserve a place in my life.

Remember when I started the De-Stuff My Life challenge with such enthusiasm, only to peter out once things hit the fan? Now that it is Ash Wednesday and Lent for real, I’m starting again. This time, though, my goal is far more modest. I want to take out one bag per day, whether it’s trash or donations. (Not ordinary trash that accumulates, but trash from clearing out junk.) Or my goal is to de-clutter for 15 minutes a day. Whichever makes more sense at the time. (Two days ago, for example, I sorted through a lot of items on my entertainment center, threw out junk, and set out a lot of piles of items that need to be put away other places. Putting away those items can be today’s 15 minutes.)

My reward?

Fifteen minutes of violin practice. That’s about all my tight wrist and shoulder will let me do, and (again thinking of Leila) I don’t dare risk injury. Ten or fifteen minutes twice a day will have to be my limit for now, and I will be happy with that.

I want to play for church. I’d love to join the community orchestra, get involved with other musicians, and…

But for now, it’s the little things.

My father may be dying.

I can’t sing the last verse of How Great Thou Art.

I can’t control the scary parts of my life right now, but I can throw out the physical and emotional clutter.

I can pick up my much-beloved violin, and I can slowly, slowly, slowly inch my way back to proper playing.

I saved playing my violin again for the moment when I most needed it. For all those years of childhood lessons, orchestra rehearsals, and tears…I am grateful.

I can always wish my life were better and more stable, but I will never have everything I long for. Instead, I’ll set up my music stand amidst the de-cluttering mess and make my violin sing (or cough, croak, and splutter a few scratchy notes).

How great Thou art.

9 thoughts on “How Great Thou Art (amidst the mess)

  1. racheldevineuk says:

    I have been very moved by your posts about your father. I hope that he is spared to spend more time with you. I too look after my elderly father. He is 92, and I know that his time is running out, so this is something I need to prepare for. But whenever it comes I know that will wish I had had one more day with him. I hope you have many more days with your Dad.


  2. awesomesub says:

    Hi Ana, I am so sorry that you Dad’s condition is not improving, but I do hope that there will be some change for the better in his situation. When my Dad was close to dying we knew that he only had a small chance to survive (his doctors put that into numbers, 20%, ew), so basically all that was left to do was hope for the best, and we were so lucky. My wish for your Dad and you is that he will make it, and that you will have more peaceful moments together, without drama and maybe even with your violin that you play for him. 🙂

    I am fully with you on shutting out people that are toxic, and in this already hard to endure situation you were in when visiting your Dad, it was horrible to add to your pain. This leaves me kind of speechless as I think that when a loved one has become seriously ill the family should care more than ever for each other. I think this includes (close) friends, since they know which button to push to cause pain, but they also know how to give comfort in such a time of need. And this is what friends do, they help and give support. That’s what makes the drama which has happened to you so awful and I fully understand that you don’t want to have such people around anymore. Instead of worrying about them I’d love you to have more of the good times with your Dad.

    hugs and love



  3. abby says:

    Ah sweetie, I read this with tears in my eyes. I said good bye to my dad 5 years ago…I know i will never get over it…but i also know He is still with me…He sends us signs…and until now I would have looked at others who said that with …get real…but it is real. I have come to regard family drama as something that i should leave to those involved, and separate myself form it….no, i am not always successful, but it helps, a little.
    I bet your granny friends would love to hear you playing your violin…even if it is just a scale…for now. Hurrah for you for getting it out!! Please keep us posted on your dad….and remember, no matter what you are feeling…this is a no judgement zone.
    Only meant to say ..I am thinking of you…got carried away…
    hugs abby


  4. Eileen Richards says:

    As a fellow musician, nothing soothes the soul like music. Our thoughts and prayers remain with you and your family. Your posts tear at my heart, but I know you’ll get through this. You are strong. Your faith is strong and you have good friends by your side. Hugs.


  5. Senia says:

    I am glad to hear that you have such wonderful people around to embrace you and help you get thru these difficult times. Stay strong Ana!


  6. catrouble says:

    Awww sweet Ana…I know what it’s like to have a parent in ICU…have gone through it with both of mine. Oh my…you brought back some memories with that particular song…happy ones…thank you. Please do find 10 or 15 minutes a day to play your violin…your joy in playing comes through in your words…please take that time for you. Happy you are not letting the drama queens/kings pull you into their issues. Sending prayers, healing energy and positive thoughts for your dad and for you! Take care of yourself!

    Hugs and blessings…Cat


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