Tag Archives: Singing

Sing Me a Song of Heaven

I came to this past weekend and our annual church retreat with a sense of restlessness and even heaviness.  I have always loved our church retreat weekends.  And I was looking forward to this time together.  But I just felt grumpy and irritable . . . and sad.

The books tell us all about the seasons of grief.  And sometimes the thing that is the most noteworthy to me is how unpredictable it is.  There are stages, and I am so aware of this.  But experience has also proven that the stages of grief get all mixed up, and they may have a predictable pattern, but more often than not, there is a stage that pops up all out of the order in which it was supposed to appear.

And this past weekend, with its full moon and its busy-ness and the whole thing of a completely different venue for our church retreat, made my emotions and my heart feel so unfamiliar and wretched.  I was happy to help with things for retreat, and made sausage gravy and tea, took snacks and diversions, lent frying pans and drink dispensers and wasn’t at all resentful of any of that, but there was this unruly, childish inclination towards irritability that colored and clouded my enjoyment of the time together.  Things really were done decently and in order, but nothing felt quite right.

“I just need an attitude adjustment,” I told OGA, on our way home on Saturday night.  She thought that she was somehow responsible for the fact that I left early and was lamenting her life and needs and supposed impositions and pretty much everything in general.  “It has nothing to do with you, Audrey-girl.  I just wanted to come home.  I’m tired and sad and irritable and nobody can do anything to please me.”

“Oh,” she said in the darkness beside me.  And lapsed into silence.

“I miss my Mama,” I said then.  And started to cry.  I thought about how My Sweet Mama never liked going to picnics and church retreat and anything that was less than convenient when it came to eating and socializing.  She tried to overcome that, but it was rare for her to spend much time at church retreat on a good weekend, much less when she wasn’t feeling well.  But I could call her and tell her all about everything.  What we ate, who did what, what the activities were, who was there, who helped with the cooking, how the serving went, whether there were many leftovers, who did the work, who cleaned up, and always, all about the children and little ones and what they did for fun and mischief and amusement.  But on this weekend, there was no outlet for my observations, no one to comfort me in my sadness, no one to validate my feelings, (whether legitimate or not).  Mama was in Heaven.

Heaven.  I’ve thought more about that place in these last three months than probably ever before.  I thought about it a lot after Daddy died, and felt a sense of wonderment and curiosity about this uncharted territory.  But Daddy always pretty much could take care of himself, and I had no doubts that he took Heaven in stride and went about with his insatiable curiosity, discovering all sorts of things, filling in the spaces of all his questions, and meeting new people.  Yes, I didn’t think too much about how Daddy was doing in Heaven. But I did wonder about the place that we call “Heaven.”

“We say we know where Dad is,” said my brother, Clint, one day.  “We say he is in Heaven, and I believe he is.  But where is Heaven?  We can’t really say where Heaven is.  So in some respect, since we don’t know where Heaven is, we don’t really know where Dad is.”   That was an interesting observation to me, and I chalked it up to another one of the mysteries of the life beyond the here and now.  It wasn’t troubling nor did it cause disbelief.  It just was.

But since Mama died, I keep coming back to this thing of Heaven, and wondering what it is like.  Wondering, more specifically, what it is like for Mama.  I know she is healthy and whole and beautiful and happy.  I know she is with the LORD and Daddy.  I don’t think she misses us, and I know she doesn’t want to come back.  But does she ever think of us?  Does she talk about us to the ones already there?  Do we even figure into the equation of LIFE in that place.  And why does that even concern me?  Why does my heart lurch at the thought of her being so alive and happy and present with the LORD that life here is forgotten, swallowed up in victory?  Am I this selfish? Or am I wondering about how the things I give my life to will matter when I leave it all behind?  Or is this just yet another stage of the grief that dogs my days?

I came down to the kitchen on Sunday morning.  The weariness that pulled me back on my heels was that of a heavy heart and not enough sleep, coupled with the morning things pressing in.  Checking in on my ladies, I realized that Audrey had a potty accident in the night.  She had stripped herself of her soiled nightie and piled it and her protective bed pad into an odiferous mound on the floor of her bedroom.  She had soiled the sheet under the pad (how did she do that?) and had opted to put on a clean nightie and to wrap herself up in a blanket and finish the night on her chair rather than get back into bed.  She must have moved stealthily in the night because I hadn’t heard her on the monitor.  She was full of apologies and very embarrassed and sad.  My heart ached for my Audrey Girl.  Life was hard enough to cope with at this particular juncture of the Moon and Earth and she already was struggling mightily with feeling like she was a burden.  I looked at the disarray in the bedroom, and struggled with the whole thing of readjusting morning plans to allow for the catastrophe at hand, getting to church retreat in time for breakfast, and the contradiction of just wanting to sit down and do nothing.

Somewhere in the middle of the whole mess, the thoughts about Heaven came crowding in. I had this sudden urge to know what Heaven is like.  I was pretty sure that it held very little of the present dilemma, but there was this deep, deep yearning for something explicitly definitive and descriptive.  I wanted to find Certain Man and crawl in close to his heart and whisper, “Tell me what you think Heaven is like.  What will we do?  How will we be?”  But he came in late from morning chores with almost no time to spare to get to retreat on time, and the words wouldn’t come.  I finished the tea for the noon meal, and he hurriedly loaded it and prepared to leave.  When he hugged me, his eyes clouded over and he asked, “Are you okay?”

It was the perfect chance, but the words stuck in my throat.  I finally said, “I’m just so grumpy and sad.  I’m really missing my Mama.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Mama didn’t even like retreat.  Why does this retreat make me miss her so much?”

He was understanding, and he didn’t dismiss my feelings, but we both knew he needed to get ice down to retreat for breakfast, and he was running late.  He sympathetically said, “Well, Hon, that’s just the way things are sometimes.”   And he was off to breakfast with the rest of our church family.

I decided to just get to the lodge in time for the morning service and the noon meal, and I methodically organized the morning, changed the bed, put the linens in to soak, gave Linda her shower and dressed her, checked and counted the day’s meds and fed breakfast.  Automatic things while my heart was turning over and over again the restless longing for another place beyond this terrestrial plane.

And then, curling around the edges of my brain swelled  an old, old song that My Sweet Mama sang when I was a little girl.  It embodied the longing, gave words to the ache, and gave substance to Hope.  I began to sing the song as I remembered her singing it.

Sing me a song of Heaven, Beautiful homeland of peace.
Glorious place of beauty, there all my trials shall cease.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.

The music comforted me, even more than the words.  I could hear My Sweet Mama’s voice singing from somewhere in my memory, and I thought some more about Heaven.  One thing I so often get caught up on is that we’ve said so many things about Heaven that we don’t really have scripture to back up.  What we do have from scripture leaves lots of room for the imagination, to be sure, but the Bible says that we cannot imagine what God has in store for us.  Over these last months, I’ve clung to what the Bible says about Heaven and I’ve come to realize that it isn’t so much what is there that I long for as much as I long for what isn’t.  No more parting.  No more pain.  No more death.  No more sin, sadness and the brokenness that sin brings.  No more war.  No more bad attitudes.  No more restless selfishness. No more grief.

But there is one thing that it says will be there: Singing.  Praise.  Mama is singing.  How I longed to hear that voice again! It had been a long time since she did any singing here on earth, and I could imagine that it is one of the things about Heaven that she enjoys. And so it was, on this Sunday morning in late September, when it felt like I had to hear something from Over There, that My Sweet Mama sang to me a Song of Heaven.  She started to sing it decades ago, but it only really got to my heart after she was There.  And just when I needed it most.

Yes, Mama. I hear you.  Sing it!  And if you should be listening, I’m singing it, too.

Sing me a song of Heaven, when life shall come to a close.
There in the arms of Jesus, my spirit shall find repose.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.
-Haldor Lillanas

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Thankful Wall

Our Thankful Wall is up.  It is a bit later than we usually put it up, but this past month has been anything but ordinary.  When Middle Daughter realized that her time grew short to get ready for her excursion, she said to me, “Mama, there is almost no way that I am going to get the Thankful Wall done.  What shall we do?”

I had been thinking about that, and I was wondering, too, just what we would do.  It is no secret at this house that the Wife of Certain Man has almost no artistic ability whatsoever.  However, several of our children have pronounced talent and enjoy creating things with canvas and paint.  They got that from their father, and even though he hasn’t developed his capacity, he often has ideas and a sense of design that far surpass my feeble attempts.

“Well,” I said to Middle Daughter, “I’ve been thinking of asking Daddy if he would consider doing it for us this year.”

“Oh, Mom!  Do you think he would?  He wouldn’t have to do it like I do it, just so we aren’t putting a blank piece of paper up there!”

That caused me to rather ruefully think of the year that Deborah was in Bangladesh or some other faraway place, and I had just scrawled, “We Give Thanks” across the top and that was the extent of it.  People still signed it, but it lacked something.  I decided to see if Certain Man might consider doing the job.

“Hon,” I said the other night, “Beebs doesn’t think she is going to get the wall done before she leaves.  Is there any chance that you would consider taking that project on?”

He looked thoughtful and then said, “Yeah, I might be able to do that.  At least, I could try!  It won’t be as good as hers, but I could probably get something up there.”

I bought the brown paper that we always use and last evening he got started.  He first penciled in the words on an angle.  They were words that we’ve never used before on our Thankful Wall, and my heart gave a lurch when I saw what his choice was:

“With Grateful Hearts . . .”

I looked at those words and thought about hearing them sung by a choir made up of my cousins at the funeral of our beloved sister in law, Frieda:

“If on a quiet sea, towards Heaven we calmly sail
With Grateful Hearts, oh God, to Thee, we’ll own the favoring gale.
With Grateful Hearts, oh God, to Thee, we’ll own the favoring gale.”

They have been so forcefully branded on my heart and brain.  Almost every Yoder relative that we’ve buried in the last ten years has had that sung at their funeral.  It started with my Grandpa Dave fifty-eight years ago, and when it has been possible and asked for by the family, those of the cousins (and sometimes uncles) who can, usually seem honored to help sing in the cousins choir.  I think there were somewhere close to 30 family members who sang on Sunday at the memorial service.  I did not.  I could not.  I cannot even sing that song in church without crying, and I knew I would be in no position to sing in front of a crowd of almost 400.  I opted to stay in my seat.  It was good I did.  My husband’s strong arm held me close, his tears mingling with mine as I sobbed in the seat beside him while my cousins sang.

And now, he chose a phrase from that song for the Thankful Wall this year.  “With Grateful Hearts . . .”  It settled into my heart and felt so appropriate.  That is what I need to do in this present storm.  Own the gale with a grateful heart and believe that it will be a “favoring” one.  The truth is, I DO believe that this storm will somehow accomplish purposes that wouldn’t have been brought to fruition otherwise, and I do believe that somewhere, Frieda knows and is pleased.  More importantly, our Heaven Father knows.  He has a plan.  May He be pleased.

Certain Man let the paper lie on the kitchen table overnight while he mulled about the picture that he hoped to put up in the corner.  Tonight he grabbed the pencils and finished it up, checked to make sure it fit properly and securely fastened it into place.  It is done.  Ready for the first signatures.  So drop by and fill it up.  The beauty of this wall is always the individual praises, written in many colors for such a diversity of people.

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My heart gives such grateful praise.

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Searching for a Meaningful Christmas

He is only eleven, but he looks fifteen.  He reminds me so much of our first foster child, and when I look at him I wish that we could fill his heart as easily as we can the stomach as he shovels down his second bowl of cheddar cheese chowder, polishes off a piece of homemade bread with butter and homemade strawberry jam, then downs some ice cream.  He helped me make the chowder, following my directions with precision and energy when time was short before church the other night.  I just love him so much.

He has been loved.  He knows he is loved, and when he writes his thankful list he always lists, “I’m thankful for my loveful family.”  He has been bullied in school, though, and he can go from calm and reasonable to rowdy and, well, “eleven year old boy” in about three seconds flat, depending on what happens.

I’ve been searching for something suitable for my class to do for the Christmas program.  I know he can sing.  Last night, as he rattled around the sun room, waiting for us to be ready to leave for church, I was listening to the Mennonite Hour Singer’s Christmas Album.  I enjoy it greatly, and that is an understatement.  The songs bring back a thousand memories and there are times when I feel like a little girl in the living room of a house that still stands on Greenwood Road, listening to the old stereo, a boxy thing on four legs, while the rich, full music of four part harmony spills over and around.  It is my childhood Christmas and all is right with the world.

So I listen to the old, old songs of Christmas and ponder ways to work them into something that would be doable for my class.  And then the sound of a male voice comes out of my kitchen CD player.

Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger
Sweet little holy child
We didn’t know who you were
Didn’t know you’d come to save us Lord
To take our sins away
Our eyes were blind, we could not see
We didn’t know who you were

Long time ago
You were born 
Born in a manger Lord
Sweet little Jesus boy
The world treats you mean Lord
Treats me mean too
But that’s how things are down here
We don’t know who you are

You have told us how
We are trying
Master you have shown us how
Even when you were dying
Just seems like we can’t do right
Look how we treated you
But please Sir forgive us Lord
We didn’t know it was you

Sweet little Jesus boy
Born a long time ago
Sweet little holy child
We didn’t know who you were

Suddenly, I got this sweet, sweet picture.  This eleven year old prince is standing in the candlelight at the Christmas program of our little country church, and he is singing this song.  Someone is accompanying him on a quiet guitar, and the congregation is moved. It is a holy moment.

I was so excited.  I thought about it, got more excited, and then called him out to the kitchen.

“Do you like to sing?”  ( I thought he did.  I mean, he sings in church . . .)

“Not really.”

“Oh, come on.  Can you sing?”

“Um.  Not really.  Not very good.”

“Would you want to sing something for the Christmas program?  I mean, if someone would help you learn it and help you practice?”

“Um.  I don’t know.  I don’t really think so.  Maybe.”

“Listen to this song –”  I back up the track and the music fills the room again.  I can tell he isn’t impressed.  At all.  “Just listen!  Here.  Where it talks about ‘the world treat you mean, Lord.  Treat me mean, too.’  That is something you can kinda identify with –”

I can tell I’ve lost him.  We scurry around, getting ready for church and then get off.  Later, on the way home, the kids are talking about the Christmas program and what they would like to do.

“Ms. Mary Ann wants me to sing this old slow song,” I hear him tell the others. And then they are off!

The dreams of old songs by candlelight die quickly as they talk of writing their own rap for the program.  I hear “manger” and “danger” and some pretty creative ideas floating around and I look again at this sixty year old heart that has a hard time letting go and wonder when I will learn.

Isn’t it far better for them to write about Jesus in ways that are meaningful to them, with songs they can “stand” and that spark interest in their hearts and start their creative juices going than for me to get my picture perfect cameo in the Christmas program?

I suppose so, young prince.  That’s why I gave you and your friends permission to try to see what you can come up with.  God help me to keep my wits about me!  I’m just not a jammin’ and a tappin’ and a rappin’ woman.  Ask Youngest Son.  He knows what happens to this mama when there is just too much of a hip-de-do-dah thing agoin’.

And with that, I leave you with this final tip of the hat to what I saw in my head for a few brief minutes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8bEOVi-qJ4

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