“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30: 11, 12 NKJV
This year promised to be full of joy and hope. I planned to celebrate surviving a year of twin + toddler mom life and return to singing with Oasis Chorale. I anticipated connecting with my colleagues and friends throughout tour. I anticipated being stretched musically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I anticipated returning home musically.
Then COVID-19. Lockdown. Nothing was certain other than that I needed to do the next thing. Change another diaper. Make another meal. Do more dishes. Fold more laundry. All without the normal social reprieves that helped to keep me afloat emotionally. I felt overwhelmed by grief from plans cancelled, music unsung, friends unseen.
That is where God met me. He reminded me of His faithfulness. I found companionship in the Psalms, connection through the gift of technology, and comfort at my keyboard, singing songs of lament, hope, and joy. I found an outlet in sharing these worship times online with a group of close friends. I learned new things about my personality and what I need most in life. I rediscovered the gift of solitude. I remembered that I have much to be grateful for. So I sang. Some days, all that I could muster was lament and grief with a shimmer of hope. “Come, Ye Disconsolate.” “Be Still My Soul.” “Be Still and Know.” Other days I sang with defiant joy. “J-O-Y.” (With Aria!) “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength.” “Joy Is Like the Rain.” And some days, the mourning was truly turned to dancing.
I celebrated a year of twin + toddler mom life in June. Now I soak in the beauty of Lake Huron when I get the chance. I celebrate playgrounds being opened to the public. I appreciate anew the chance to eat food that I didn’t have to prepare. I revel in the gift of spending time face to face with friends. I hope for the Canada/US border to open to non-essential travel so I can see family and friends again. I continue to sing when and where I can, and I dream of the day when we will again be able to gather and make music as a group.
I leave you with an old hymn that has been my friend these past months:
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee, Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not, As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be. “Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!” Morning by morning new mercies I see All I have needed Thy hand hath provided “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord unto me! Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above; Join with all nature in manifold witness, To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow Blessings all mine, with ten thousand besides
I am a music educator located in Ephrata PA, so my life was significantly altered when the country went into a state of emergency back in March. (Gracious! It’s hard to believe we have been living with this new and hopefully temporary normal for that long.) I headed south to be with my family as soon as the schools shut down and have been with them ever since.
I taught from home until school let out for the summer. My schedule was a little bit lighter than normal while teaching online, but for the most part, it kept me busy. Once summer hit, my schedule was very wide open. I am a goal setter so when I noticed some extra time in my schedule, I set out to fill it with some things I normally struggle to find time for. This included but was not limited to sifting through websites for classroom music resources, practicing my instruments, spending time outside, reading, sewing a few dresses, and – one of the more fun ones – taking percussion lessons. If you think percussion is as simple as striking a drum or shaking a bottle filled with rice, you would be correct. But, it is also as complex as making each of your four limbs play a different rhythm simultaneously while keeping a consistent pulse. Remember that exercise where you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time? It’s like that only you add a seperate motion for each of your feet as well.
Instead of the big trips I had planned for this summer, I’m doing small ones here and there to see friends and family. South Carolina has seen a sudden spike in Covid cases this month, giving me reason to be a bit more thoughtful about my travel plans, however, most of my trips have been able to proceed without too many changes as long as my trusty mask goes with me :).
I feel more ready to get back to my school routine than I have in past years. I think the fact that I’ve been back in the South since March combined with Oasis being canceled has made the summer feel extra long. I didn’t realize how much structure and routine Oasis brought to my summer! Having extra time is certainly not anything to complain about, but suddenly having a lot of it provided an extra awareness of what has been feeding my life with purpose and motivation and how I flounder when those sources are cut off. Here’s to 2020, the year of awareness. I hope it results in my developing a more consistent posture of empathy in the years ahead whatever they may hold.
2020 was already a strange year for me. I finished my late-onset undergraduate degree in December of 2019 and jumped right into a brand new teaching job in January. It was a time of many adjustments and a lot of learning on the fly. On March 12, I finished entering my third-quarter grades and went home for Spring Break, unsure what the rest of the semester would look like. In the next several days, I received word of the cancellation of in-person classes for the remainder of the semester. Shortly after that, Oasis spring rehearsal was canceled.
Having my daily schedule suddenly disrupted was rather disorienting at first, but I eventually became accustomed (perhaps too accustomed) to the forcibly-decelerated pace of quarantine life. Incidentally, much like my comrade in section leadership, Dan Yutzy (see July 2 blog post), I took up disc golf and developed a mild addiction. It’s been a nice way to get outside and avoid wasting away entirely. I’m still awaiting word from my district about what the return to school will look like this fall. I am excited to get back to teaching, but a bit apprehensive about the potential challenges of restarting school during a pandemic.
Along with the keen disappointment of all performance opportunities being canceled (Oasis and others), I’ve also had more time to simply enjoy music, free from any pressure to learn and perfect. One especially meaningful piece has been Jake Runestad’s setting of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things.” I hope it blesses you, too.
This summer of cancelled events has become a summer of rest and recreation for me. It has been an opportunity to live differently with more creative ventures, focused work on a long-term project, quietness, and lengthy times of reading the Word. It’s been a time to more frequently sit close with friends, to meditate, to hike in the nearby mountains; a time to see, to create, to be, to listen. Paul Mealor’s setting of “The Beatitudes” has brought beauty both in its quietness and its exuberant rejoicing – a reminder that “all that will be” is not yet.
It’s an unusual season. The words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (KJV) come to mind and beg for a stream of consciousness response for our current context, so here goes…
3 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
This COVID thing…is a just for a season? When will things be normal? Since when is “what I perceive as normal” the ultimate reality? This poet is wiser than I…
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
Life has gone on. People have been born and died. Some have planted garden and already harvested a fruitful abundance; some have planted seeds and there is no fruit yet. “What is the purpose of my life?” ask the philosophers among us.
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
If this virus could be captured once and for all, it would be killed. Instead, it runs unpredictably about touching some with death and others with a mere cough. Physical healing is not guaranteed, but healing balm comes to all who are poor in spirit and encounter the King.
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
Sorrow because we cannot be with friends, yet laughter shared with those in the same house. Weeping changed to joy, so writes the psalmist (Psalm 30:5). But then, James says: “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9).
What is what? Does this make sense? Who is right? (Where does the virus live? Is it only in the air?)
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
Well, social distance, everyone! (but don’t neglect relationships)
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
Gain a summer vacation. Lose a wonderful time of singing with Oasis Chorale. Gain extra time to be still before the Lord (if we turn off the news updates). So, open our hands to give and receive, O Lord.
These difficult times have actually not been that difficult for me in many ways, as I hailed from the great state of Arkansas (and a very rural part of it at that) until the last part of June. At that point we (my wife, Sheri; two children, and I) moved close to Canton, Ohio.
Just enough of my engagements were cancelled to allow me to slow down slightly. Throughout the spring and summer I was able to keep right on working at my job in construction. I was honestly a little disappointed that we didn’t have to shut down for a week or so, but won’t complain too loudly!
One of the worst things about the pandemic for me personally has been the music making opportunities that were lost, such as singing with Oasis Chorale. Also I am planning to attend Malone University in the fall pursuing a music degree, so I’m really hoping that I will be able to attend classes on campus.
I did pick up one new skill during quarantine-disc golf. It’s maddeningly hard to master and also strangely addictive.
Here’s to hoping that by next year thoughts of quarantine and distancing will be but distant memories. Wishing you all a healthy and God-blessed second half of 2020.
That King James turn of phrase from my childhood, “such and such a city,” has often rung in my mind’s ear in the past few months.
Come now, ye that say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain”; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.
The Apostle James is chiding his readers against improper certainty. Like those early readers, we too make plans for worthwhile and profitable ventures. Those plans depend on circumstances that are relatively predictable. And up until recently, all the societal cogs hummed along – with wobbles, to be sure, but yet with astonishing reliability.
But now, in a COVID-19 world, “whereas ye know not” has become us. We realize with new clarity what we often forget: we’re not as in control as we tend to think.
That’s where we are as a choir. Our plans for “such and such a city” included Lancaster and Leamington and Walnut Creek. Tour is cancelled, and we are disappointed.
It seems the Apostle James would encourage us not to shout invectives, nor even to posit yet again how this all really should have been handled, but rather to recognize that uncertainty and lack of control are a normal human experience. Perhaps he would encourage us less to fix the external problems (of which there are many), and to acknowledge and work on the internal problems (of which there are many). Specifically, he calls us to deep humility and to recognizing that there are other players in this game besides the obvious ones.
Instead ye ought to say, “If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that.”
“If the Lord will” is more than a pious phrase. It acknowledges a larger Presence in the world. We are not the only ones with plans. Random forces and chance might in some inexplicable way be the glove worn by a mighty hand. The unpredictability of our time may not be something merely to be solved, but something to be noted; not something merely to live through but to live in. If we let it, our discomfort with this present uncertainty can point us to where we can find a true and proper certainty that cannot finally be rattled by the events that make the headlines.