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.

Never.

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.

Church of the Wooden Spoon

Church of the Wooden Spoon

So. I believe in lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness. In my dismay at the new laws allowing people to refuse service based on religious beliefs (which, as far as I can tell, do not exempt emergency service providers such as EMTs or firefighters), I felt dispirited. Disappointed. Sad for what this might mean for the future of our society.

I could complain about the laws, or I could do something instead. I may not have the legal or political clout to do something that way, but I’m a writer. I enjoy humor. So…in response to this law, I have founded a Church of the Wooden Spoon. I created it as a joke and added two people because Facebook doesn’t allow a group without members.

Within a few hours, the requests for membership starting coming in! So far, we are thirty-eight members strong and still growing. Find us on Facebook and ask to join! The first New Member Class will conclude at the end of today.

What? I’m not any crazier than the people passing these laws. 😀

So far, we have a few rules:

Rules of the Church of the Wooden Spoon (will be updated as necessary):

1. ‪#‎CabbageIsSexy‬
2. We are not celibate.
3. Traditional theology dictates that the edges of the wooden spoon must be rounded. However, a special task force is preparing a study on whether angled spoons (formerly known as spatulas and therefore heretics) may be accepted.
4. Wooden Spoon means WOODEN SPOON. No metal spoons, no spatulas, no silicone!
5. It is our sincere religious belief that the Wooden Spoon forbids us to have any business dealings with homophobes. Therefore, as a protected class under US law, we may refuse to serve homophobes in our daily lives.

We even have two prayers. One was composed in Latin by Emily Tilton:

O coclear fidele, tuum auxilium devote rogamus hodie, ut nates illorum qui flagellationem desiderent!

 

You’ll have to ask Emily what it means. 🙂

The prayer I composed is in English:

O Magnificent Spoon of Wonder
We give thanks to you and strive to honor you
Guide us and protect us, O Spoon,
That we may live in the glory of your ways.

Please don’t ask about the angled spoon debacle. We’re all reeling from the internal conflict. What? You insist on knowing? Okay, okay. Here is the public statement:

It is NOT true that the Church of the Wooden Spoon has splintered into a protest church, the Church of the Wooden Spatula. We at the Church of the Wooden Spoon are working hard to reach out to these lost sheep and bring them back into the fold.

I have commissioned a task force to prepare a statement on the Church of the Wooden Spoon’s position on the shape of the wooden spoon and whether angled edges will be accepted as orthodox.

Please, in times of founding a new church it is easy to get lost in divisive rhetoric. Let’s not get distracted by the little details and instead focus on the glory that is the Wooden Spoon.

We are a new church, and this was an enormous blow. The less said, the better. Even worse, we’re getting reports of publicly expressing love for riding crops, getting seduced by a traveling salesman to love an angled wooden spoon, and *gasp* attending the church of the SILICONE spoon!

The Holy Mistress is not pleased.

If you want to win a wooden spoon of your own, plus an autographed set of cooking chopsticks, visit Jessica Subject’s blog for a post on Hyunkyung Han’s Top 5 Favorite Spanking Implements!

Plus, check out this wonderful 5-star review for Living in Sin by Amy at Inked Rainbow Reads!

 

Five Minutes for Emily: A community message from Kat

I click through a few blogs and pause at one. Red Booty Woman…isn’t that the Christina who came a few wweeks ago with Rogue and gave me the birthday paddle? I’ve always been too shy to comment on blogs–and not permitted by Natalie who is hyper-concerned about internet safety–but this message strikes me cold. I read it again, sure that I’ve misunderstood, but the letters remain the same no matter how many times I read them. I don’t quite understand “encephalitis” or “meningitis”, but vaguely I remember that they must be serious. I shudder, thinking of when my mom’s medications failed to control her pain and she slipped into a state of not knowing anyone, not my siblings or our dad.

“Natty,” I call, but she shushes me.

“I’ve got to get this done by tomorrow or we won’t get the contract,” she says, her eyes glued to her computer screen as her fingers fly across the keyboard. “Can you tell Mom for me that I’m sorry but I can’t talk to her today?”

That’s right. It’s Sunday, and we haven’t called Dad and Mama Jane yet. “Okay,” I answer, picking up the cordless phone and punching number one on speed dial. Suddenly, I want to talk to Mama Jane more than anyone in the world.

“Kat!” Mama Jane’s voice sings out from the phone as if she is right next to me. “I’ve been waiting for you girls to call. Is everything okay?”

No, I think. But Natalie wouldn’t understand. I glance at her, and she waves her hand at me.

“Tell Mom I’m sorry,” she says.

“Natty’s got to do some work, so is it okay if I talk to you by myself today?” I ask. We usually call together, and I half-expect Mama Jane to tell me to call back when Natalie is available.

“On Sunday? Tell her that a day of rest is…”

I shrug at Natalie, mouthing “Sorry!” as Mama Jane changes topics.

“But you’re the one who called, so you shouldn’t have to listen to this. How are you?”

I get to my feet and take the phone with me upstairs to my room, closing the door behind me. I can tell Natalie that I didn’t want to interrupt her while she was working.

“Mama Jane?” I ask, and it’s hard to keep my voice from shaking.

“What’s wrong?” she responds, in the warm mother voice that never fails to make me feel safe. At least until now.

“A friend of mine, her name is Christina, well she and her husband Jim’s daughter is in the ICU and her family is all worried about her, and she’s only six and…” I have to stop before the tears overwhelm me. I may have met Christina less than a month ago, but her wisdom could only have come from years of life experience nurturing, guiding, and loving the people around her.

Mama Jane tsks in dismay. “Oh dear, will you visit her?”

“I can’t!” I wail. “They’re in Canada, and they barely know me and I can’t do anything at all for them.” I didn’t cry when my mother was in the ICU, but I am crying now. “What can I do?” I beg, knowing that if anyone can make things better it is Mama Jane. “Some of her friends are saying we should have five minutes for Emily and to pray at nine o’clock at night, but…” My voice trails off. Out of respect for Mama Jane, Natalie and I attend church weekly. She was raised to believe, but I wasn’t. I don’t really understand what it’s all about, but praying together as a family makes me feel safe. On my own, though, I have never tried. It doesn’t make sense to talk to someone you can’t see.

Then again, I’m talking to Mama Jane when I can’t see her, right?

“I’ll pray for her too, honey. What is her name?”

“Emily,” I choke out. “She’s six. God will listen to you if you pray. God will make Emily better, right?”

Mama Jane gives a heavy sigh. “I wish it were that easy. And God will listen to you just as much as me. There’s no preferred membership.”

“Wait,” I protest. “So we’re going to pray and it won’t make her better? What’s the point of praying, then?”

“Honey,” she says, with a gentle note of reproof. “You don’t pray to God only because you get what you want. What if Natalie only talked to you when you did what she wanted?”

I smile in spite of myself. Natalie does talk to me when I don’t do what she wants, but not in a way that I’m willing to tell Mama Jane! “I don’t mean to be rude,” I say, “but if the point of praying is to make sure Emily gets well, why pray if we don’t know that will happen for sure?”

Another sigh. “That’s the topic of a lot of theological discussions, Kat, and some people might think there is no satisfactory answer. But we pray because we need to be centered, because we need to be connected with our Creator, and because life can sometimes be so cruel that our only recourse is to trust in God.”

I’ve sung Christmas carols and held hands around the dinner table with Kat’s family, but I’ve never asked in this way before. “Mama Jane?” I pause, not wanting to sound childish. “I don’t think I can pray for her, I mean not if it won’t make her recover.” She starts to say something, but I forge on. “Can you pray instead of me?”

Mama Jane might say God will listen to me, but I’m not sure. If it’s this important, it’s probably better to have the expert do it.

“Of course,” she agrees. “Now, over the phone?”

I meant later, after we hung up, but I agree. It can’t hurt. And maybe God won’t mind my listening in, since I don’t know how to do the prayer myself.

As I hear rustling, I picture Mama Jane closing her eyes and bowing her head.

“Dear Lord in heaven,” she begins, and I rush to imitate her from several states away. “We thank you for all that you have given us, and for your loving care that you shower on those around us. Thank you for this day to celebrate you, and thank you for my daughters who are safe and well. We have many things for which to thank you, Lord, but today we gather in your name because one of your youngest servants needs your special care. Emily, daughter of Kat’s friends Jim and Christina, is in the ICU. To watch a child suffer is the worst thing that could happen to a parent–”

Involuntarily, I remember Mama Jane and Dad’s anguish when they found out what had happened to Natalie. I swallow hard.

“–and you know how much I pleaded for you to save my Rachel.”

The daughter she lost in infancy. I blink, surprised that I hadn’t made the connection before.

“It was the worst time of my life, Lord, and I beg for you to spare Jim and Christina the anguish of losing a child.”

For the second time, I think. The only thing worse than losing a child is to lose a second.

“We ask for you to restore her to health and to bring her safely back to her parents, but we understand that your ways are too infinite for us to understand. We ask your blessing and guidance on the medical team who treats her, and we especially ask for your loving care to surround Jim and Christina. They have other children who are frightened, and their duties as parents are split between caring for their children at home and little Emily at the hospital. Please shower them with your love, and gather them into your arms for comfort, rest, and renewal so they can return to caring for your little ones.”

I am sniffling, wondering for a mad moment if it can actually work. Will a prayer do something even if I’m not really sure I believe in it?

“We ask also for your guidance for Jim and Christina’s friends as they gather around the world to lift up Emily and her family in prayer. Please help us to pray for the right things, to accept your will, and to send positive energy instead of our fear and worry. Help those closest to Jim and Christina to be strong for them, to be supportive, and to know what is needed.”

Tears trickle down my cheeks. How did Mama Jane know?

“Most of all, Lord, we ask you to help us trust in you, to trust in your goodness and mercy, and to trust that you will do what is right. We ask all these things in your name because you promised that whenever two or three of us gather in your name, you are with us. In the name of your son Jesus who taught us to pray, Amen.”

“Amen,” I whisper through my tears, unable to say anything more.

“Kat,” Mama Jane says, and her voice makes me think I can climb mountains if she only asks. “When the world seems dark and scary, that’s the time to pray. Do you understand?”

For the first time in my life, I do. “Mama Jane?” I ask. “Can you keep praying for Emily? I know you said God will listen to me, too, but you do it better.”

“Of course,” she says, and her voice seeps out of the phone to envelop me in a hug. “Why don’t you call me at nine o’clock every night so we can join in the prayer vigil? And we will pray together.”

I want to say thank you, but instead I fumble for a tissue and wipe my eyes. “God will listen?” I ask, knowing what she will say but needing to hear it again.

“God will always listen, my dear.”

Emily, I think. Maybe we can’t do much, but we can pray. And Mama Jane is one of the best prayer allies you’ve got.

As Rogue told us, Jim and Christina’s youngest daughter is extremely sick. Emily is in the ICU with encephalitis and meningitis. They have already lost one child, and to have their six-year-old going through seizures and scary medical treatment is a nightmare no parent ever wants to face. At one point, it seems that the doctors asked them about a do not resuscitate order. Another nightmare no parent ever wants to face.

As a community, we are doing “Five Minutes for Emily”. Because we are worldwide, if each of us spends five minutes at 9 PM (our local time) praying for Emily (or sending her your positive healing energy in the manner that fits best with your style), we can have round-the-clock prayer vigils.