Friday, January 31, 2014

Cliches of Strength

I believe at our core we are each beautifully strong and terribly vulnerable. These forces are always in some equilibrium. Sometimes the stronger we are the harder we fall, and sometimes the weaker we feel the more we conjure up some superhuman strength--I'm thinking of the Grinch holding the entire contents of Whoville's Christmas when his heart grew.

Our church did a sermon series of cliches of faith. I was thinking about the cliches of strength. You know--what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, no pain no gain.  Blah, blah, blah.

I'm feeling stronger than a year ago, that is, I can hold a plank pose longer and do a couple more pushups. You can feel mentally strong too--I'm memorizing music for the first time in a while and Brahms will stretch your brain, that's for sure.  It feels good to be strong--mentally and physically. Emotionally.

At any given time we are all on the tight rope, that balance beam of strength and weakness, love and fear.

When we don't feel so strong we sometimes fall back on cliches. Here's one: we don't know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice. After the sacred and terrible phone call confirming my dad's terminal diagnosis, I hung up, and like I often do, stared out at the beautiful nature I'm blessed to see through my back window.  The only thing that I could think of was. . . here we go. We have to go through this. We are not given a choice. Five years later, I don't know if I'm stronger or weaker for that. It just was.

Our lives are not perfect. Sometimes we make bad decisions and we have to live with that, but sometimes things just happen and we have to live with that too. And sometimes someone else makes the bad decision for us. I'm thinking of the hit and run drunk driver from last February. We were fine, but bad things happen to good people every day. Accidents happen. Illness happens. Addiction happens. Whatever the cause, sometimes we just have to put one foot in front of the other and go through the result. We don't always have a choice. Being strong becomes our only choice.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Calvin has that on his bedroom door. But Christ mostly works through our people. Our local angels. We never have to try to be strong alone. There is strength in numbers. That's why we are here. To pray. To show up. To be a community. Didn't we learn that with my dad? Maybe that is the strength lesson. When life gives you more than you can handle, God gives you people. And they show up mysteriously at the right time.

Here is my favorite less famous cliche, from a Curly Girl greeting card: I don't think we know our own strength, until we have seen how strong love makes us. The gal has heart shaped boxing gloves. Heart shaped boxing gloves. I like that. And, I know it's true, love makes us stronger than we know. God's love through our people. Sending it out. . . to everyone who needs a little strength.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What is My Actual Life?

This is Bill baking bread. A typical weekend activity at the Kotrba household.


It was the first weekend afternoon home alone as a family since November? The bread was pretty good.

I follow a Christian family life writer Jen Hatmaker. In her latest blog entitled "I Miss My Actual Life" she explains how she is taking a break from her traveling speaking engagements because the thing she speaks about, Christian family life, is actually not happening while she is so busy being a traveling speaker.

A colleague asked me if I read it and we both shared a knowing nod of the head. What is our actual life? What would we do on a weekend without recitals, workshops or church gigs?

I spent the better part of seven hours stuck in the Austin airport last Monday working on the rough draft of my Suzuki Teacher Training Application. To be an official Suzuki Teacher Trainer you must have this application accepted by the powers that be and then go on to do some kind of apprentiship and then you can teach teachers and they can get credit for the classes and levels they might take from you.

The application includes references, student performances, your own performances, a thesis type paper, community service, evaluation of your teaching through videos and documentation of every minute of your professional life for the last quarter of a century. For real.

Sometimes the journey of a thousand miles ends very badly. But, nothing ventured nothing gained.  The idea of being a teacher trainer assumes that you probably must almost know it all. If that is the case the whole thing is hopeless because this road of teaching children music is very long and winding and I learn something from every parent, teacher and student that I come in contact with. These type of endeavors are casually accompanied by the fear that you just might not be good enough.

I did meet the first qualification toward being a crazy cat lady piano teacher this week when I taught my first two Wednesday students with a velcro curler in the back of my hair.  I think I got it on video, which I probably will not submit to the committee.

What is my actual life?

So far this year we are miles away from a routine.  It's been twenty-five below zero and we've been sick and Bill and I have traveled. I haven't put Christmas away. I haven't unpacked from Austin. The pantry is loaded with random stuff to process including leftover Christmas cookies. But I'm happy.  I'm excited about the path. I'm rebelling against thinking I can follow it and still have all my ducks in a row every minute. I'm letting go. Really!

Bill and I had a female calculus teacher at Northern Illinois. She was the typical well-dressed tenure track smarty. Most days it was a wool skirt, turtle-neck and tweed blazer. Glasses. But each morning at 8:00 a.m. there was one thing wrong. One day her slip was showing. One day a glob of toothpaste in her hair. One day a run in her stockings. Wabi sabi professor.

This year, if I'm gonna make this application complete, and that is my goal, there might be a square of toilet paper stuck on my shoe from time to time. The storage shed is not gonna get cleaned out. Nor the freezer. I'm buying the cakes for my parent party. No house projects. I'm even pretending that I might plant fewer flowers.

Making a goal public is a good way to humiliate yourself into making it happen. Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. A perfectly tidy house might be the enemy of a long term plan. This is not easy for me. It's hard to practice when the books are disheveled and the CDs are not alphabetized.

Step one--memorizing the Brahms Intermezzo for Houston. Step two--references. Step three--making videos. For the sake of making a really good impression on the Suzuki piano gurus, I hope you will tell me if the hair curlers are showing. Or worse.

What is my actual life? Blessed. Family, music, and faith that God has a plan for us--and if this is the right path it won't matter if our actual life is a little wabi sabi.

P.S. Please remind of this when I start to forget and organize the sock drawer at the expense of page 43 of the application. . .

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Up to No Good. . .

A well-loved Harry Potter Quote
It's been a crazy week.
Congrats to Calvin for winning the Blackhawk Middle School spelling bee. There are all sorts of comments or jokes I could make but the truth is middle school is turning out to be a great time not to comment or joke. Yes, I have learned this the hard way more than a couple times. Seriously, congrats to Calvin and I'm sure you know, if you know me, that he didn't get this talent from me. I'm the worst speller on the planet and even Mary caught my typo on my new flashcards. . .  "Gallup". . . moments before they went to print. It's true. I can't spell. But lucky for Calvin and Mary some genes must be recessive.

I've been sick the last three days. The nasty kind of sick. So has Mary. This afternoon I was trying to hack through some choir music before rehearsal tonight, which by the way was not one of my shining moments, and Mary was lying on the couch listening. She asked me if I got to keep the music. I told her I make copies so I can turn pages more easily and so that I can write stuff in color in the music. I keep the copies in my file so I can use them again.

So later at choir, after a particularly botched sight-reading attempt, I looked at my music for the next piece and there was a gold star and "I love you, Mama" printed at the top. I just happened to have practiced the wrong arrangement of that particular piece AND was disoriented from my mistake AND feeling pretty puny to begin with. . . but the little gold star fixed it all.

I had about the worst hour and a half of my musical life. . . but I still got a gold star, from my baby.

Mary also brought me her blankie and several stuffed bunnies yesterday.

Virus? Food poisoning? I don't know, but as it turns out compassion can also be extremely contagious.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Heaven to Me

Heaven to Me
Heaven to me is a beautiful thing,
with rainbows that have all their colors to bring.
Animals everywhere bunnies galore,
real sand castles built on the wavy seashore.
Peace all the time, no crying will come,
everyone would have good foods, yum!
My family would be there, Grandaddy too!
They would all hug me and say "I love you."
There would never be war. It would be great!
And it would not matter if you arrived late.
You would not enter for how good you are
even the dragons and kings from so far.
Magic would be there, not just from fairy tales,
not magic tricks magicians would sell at sales.
It would have true spirit to bring
not just the bells that go ding, ding-a-ling.
Everyone there would be treated the same.
no riches, no servants, that would be a shame.
There would be no animals left on the streets,
they would all have warm cosy sheets.
even in winter the flowers would bloom
all the parades would have drums, boom boom!
Heaven to me is a beautiful place,
and it would put a big smile on my face! 

by Mary Ray Kotrba, age 9
At this moment, Mary wants to be a writer when she grows up.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Good Enough Year

Happy New Year!

Did you have a good enough Christmas? Did you have a good enough New Years?

Last night at dinner our family sat at the dinner table and talked about the best and worst parts of 2013.

Lows? The hail storm. The roofing debackle. The kidney ER trips. Garfield missing.

Highs? Hawaii with Savannah and my mom. Anniversary trip to Austin with Bill. Celebrating Bill's folk's 50th. My mom's surprise party last summer. Camping with friends. Finding Garfield.

Julie, a spiritual director from from our church and a Facebook friend of mine was encouraging us to contemplate a word for 2014. My word for 2013 was sabbath which I think was a fail. The word that is. Taking time off last summer did not turn out to be restful at all. Oh well. We are all here and as Pastor Paul has often said--heaven is not a place of leisure.

I think my word for 2014 is actually two words. . . .GOOD ENOUGH.

Perhaps my exercise routine is GOOD ENOUGH. Perhaps my diet--gluten, sugar, butter and all is GOOD ENOUGH. Perhaps my piano playing is. . . perhaps my teaching and my students are. . . perhaps my parenting is. . . perhaps the upstairs carpet. . . my garden. . .

Yes, I have some personal goals and goals for the kids at piano. I want to start the teacher trainer application process. I want to be more consistent practicing piano with Mary. I want to expose Calvin to some other fine local teachers and highly committed piano kids.

Yet, I want to approach these things and this year without some pie in the sky thing that needs to be fixed, just because my brain tends to look for those things in order to stay stimulated and awake. I want to have A.P.T.S.--automatic positive thought syndrome and not A.N.T.S., the negative version.

Then again, maybe even that doesn't need to be fixed. See how hard it is?

It's so hard to just be. To just be good enough. A.G.E.T.S.? Automatic good enough thought syndrome. It doesn't really have a ring to it.

Well, I could wish you a wonderful, peaceful, joyful, musical, enlightened, mindful, organized, healthy, disciplined, focused, meet all your goals and observe every resolution while still taking time to rest. . . all the way to December year. . .

But, maybe instead, I'll wish you one moment. . . to just be GOOD ENOUGH.

Happy New Year!