Monday, December 28, 2015

The Perfect Christmas

Santa's Stash

Don't Stop Believing. . . 

Christmas Eve in Eagan

Christmas Day Spaghetti with Bill's Folks and Ann and Dave

Christmas Continues in Iowa
Here I am, sitting at my mother's kitchen table. Outside there is a genuine Iowa ice-storm. We are on the other side of Christmas. Well--around here we extend Christmas pretty far--yesterday we celebrated with my sister and Savannah and there are many meals to come before we head back to Minnesota on Wednesday.

I asked my friend, why do I get so high and so low around Christmas? Is something wrong with me? Maybe something is wrong with me. I felt like Charlie Brown at Lucy's nickel stand. She thought about it for a moment and finally said, "maybe you are just human."

I'm human. And I'm greedy. This season is so full. So full. Every year seams to get fuller than the last. I'm greedy. I want it all. I'm not talking about my own Christmas wishlist, I'm talking about my greed of Christmas traditions. I want Thanksgiving in Nisswa and to decorate my house and make cookies and have the church tea. I want the recitals at our house and I love the choral service and how my family is growing up participating in church music. I love a big Christmas. I love a tree full of presents with unique bows and paper picked for each person. And everybody in the five state area has to get a card or package. That's the kind of greed I'm talking about.

But this year--instead of wrapping my mother-in-law's presents with amaryllis paper and my brother-in-law's gifts with paper with stags and Mary's with angels or bunnies and Calvin's with trains or puppies--I found myself embracing the recycled gift bag.

And I had more than one fight or flight moment. There was more to be done than can ever be done.

I asked a gal at the check out counter, what are you doing for Christmas? Her response? "Oh, I think I will sleep in and play some video games."

What? Are you fricken kidding me?

Sleep in and play video games?

What about the homemade caramels and fudge?

What about the third church service on Christmas Eve, in between Santa and waffles and family gifts and appetizers and Maggie and turning the house around for more company the next day?

The sermon at the candlelight service, given by that same friend, was about the perfect Christmas. Or lack thereof. All those nativity scenes portray Mary looking like she just came from the spa. Probably it was not like that.

To be honest, I quit with the advent devotions about December 9th. The pressure to achieve some spiritual high while clinging to this Christmas roller coaster was too much pressure and too much guilt. I gave in to the self pity of the moment.

Maybe something is wrong with me.
Maybe I'm an ungrateful spoiled brat.
Maybe I'm human.

That same friend gave a sermon ten days ago. I guess I did have a small spiritual moment, because I opted to sit through it twice. The theme? Simultaneous joy and grief. Haven't we all felt that?

I translated it also to the simultaneous loving of each and every Christmas moment and complete Christmas burnout. We can embrace it all. My Christmas greed and my Christmas gratitude. And it's all holy and God is in all of it.

God with us.
Even during those moments when I couldn't fit Christ into Christmas--he was still there.
And it was. . . the perfect Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Calvin's Media Presents: All is Bright

Calvin's Media Presents:  All is Bright

He worked really hard on his CD this year, along with Mary and Annika and Amelia. There are some very beautiful tracks! He's selling CDs for $10 and 100% of the proceeds go to Feed My Starving Children. Last year he donated $700 which fed ten children for a year. Of course they weren't eating Stoneyfield Farm Yogurt and cantaloups. . . but I think his contribution is remarkable. Contact Calvin for your 2015 CD. He has a couple leftovers from the last few years if you missed out before.

The Christmas train has left the station. It actually wizzed by the fall SAM workshop and never really stopped. The coal box is dirty and fuel is low and the steam is building but we've been down this track before. The choices are to try as hard as you can to put on the breaks, which will certainly cause derailment, or stay put in your seat and enjoy the view as we barrel down a frighteningly steep mountain. These tracks are sturdy and well maintained. The train should be able to handle the speed--if and only if the engineers gets more than five hours of sleep on any given night. Yesterday Bill flew to Chicago and we were both up at 4:00 a.m. which put a significant amount of stress on the cargo box car--almost causing a roll over. The little engine that could was ready to take a siding to Montana and never come back.

But today is a new day, which includes making graduation recordings and prepping kids for Saturday's recital, some kind of dinner between 6:15 and 6:30 and Mary's first band concert!

The snowplow car is revved up and pushing all the debris into closets and basement crevices in preparation for Saturday's recitals.

May I just put onto the "things we've learned" list. . . who's really, really, really ignorant idea was it to have all the Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild Advancing Recital videos and the Suzuki Association of Minnesota graduation recordings due between the day of the studio recitals and the church choral service? Who is running this show? Some live and learn and some just live. There are some very beautiful mountain views in Montana. . . that's all I have to say about that.

In case you are a fan of the Kotrba Piano Studio and family. . . here is a list up upcoming events for you. . .

Tonight: Mary's band concert at Deerwood, 7:00 p.m.

Saturday December 12. . . Kotrba Piano Studio Christmas Recitals at 1:00 and 3:30, thank you to Linda Erickson for helping me host them! Stop by if you can! 

Sunday Choir at church services as usual.

Monday December 14, Easter's Christmas Tea where you can hear Calvin provide the entertainment, with maybe a couple special guests from the CD as well. At the Hill. 

Insert. . . those above deadlines, choir practice, seeing our friend's high school musical, and a sledding slumber party and our first trip to a real professional Nutcracker with Mary's ballet teacher. . . 

December 19 & 20 Easter's Choral Service where you can hear the choir and the handbells and Bill playing clarinet and Calvin playing percussion and synth with the orchestra and a little help from me. 

December 24, kids sing at 3:00 and senior choir does the candlelight service.

December 31, Bill's New Year's Eve Gig with the Jerry O'Hagen Orchestra, at the Shakopee Ballroom, rumor has it that Jerry is retiring and this is the last gig. Bill has been playing with Jerry off and on since 1987 so if you are a fan, you won't want to miss this one. You have to get tickets from the dance hall.

January 2, 7:00 Cassy Erickson's run-through of her junior college recital at our house, come see Cassy play some Beethoven and Chopin. And eat cookies. 

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Season. If your train is running a little out of control like ours. . .may you stay cosy and safe and perhaps make time for a couple gentle detours where you can actually look out the window and enjoy the view. We will try to do the same.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

When Our Own Voice Isn't Big Enough

This angel reminds me of cousin Stacey

Heavenly Angels are Singing

And these are praying

A multitude. . . 

The Greek reads: and when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it. Luke 6:48

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.
These by Kirsten Malcomb Berry
Henry got good news. Check out the caring bridge link in the last entry. Successful surgery. Pathology report benign.

Yesterday, if I was crying tears of joy, and my mother was crying tears of joy, and my friend from Texas was crying tears of joy, and the three little girls from Henry's class who were playing wizards upstairs when they got the news had tears of joy, I'm sure those closest to Henry must have experienced a flood.

With all the C.R.A.P. crap in the world today, I wanted to shout it from the mountains. How can I keep from singing?

Here is the Deerwood Da Capo choir singing those exact words in November. (Click here to see the kids singing)

There aren't really enough words are there?

At home spending a precious free evening decorating for Christmas, praise and joy were spilling out all over the place. I was putting my angels everywhere and imagining their voices. I wanted to sing too, but my voice was not big enough for my feelings. I needed a bigger voice. A really big voice. Like Josh Groban.

O' Holy Night will do. Cece Winans "All is Well Tonight" was second on the list.

That my friends, is why we need music. And art. When our own voice isn't big enough. When our emotions spill out into the world we crave something to express them.

I looked around my house as I was putting up the Christmas folks, and I remembered how much art I have that I overlook each day. Art I created or purchased when I was really high or really low.

I put on Beethoven's 9th and thought about hearing the Minnesota Orchestra perform it at Orchestra Hall December of 2000, when Bill and I announced to our parents that we were having a baby. It took a full orchestra and hundreds of voices to express it that evening.

And yet, Beethoven created that art when he was deaf. Our joy and our sorrow flow from one to the other almost seamlessly.

Our prayers continue, for all good things for Henry as he heals.

I have to confess that I looked at my own children a little differently this week, and every child that walked into the studio door. Precious. Each one. Each moment.

This music that we are working so hard on, for the recital next week? This is what it's for. To get out what boils up inside us. Joys and sorrows.

Today it's joy. God bless Henry and all the children. How can we keep from singing--even when our own voice is not nearly big enough?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Praying for Henry

Henry is in the black top-hat

Tomorrow Henry is having his big surgery. Early in the morning. He's only a week into this journey, this picture taken right before Thanksgiving at the fifth grade program. Henry is the son of Kate and Matt. Henry is in Mr. Highum's fifth grade class with Mary at Deerwood. Henry sings in the children's choir at Easter Church.

Henry is a child of God, who happens to have just found out he that he has a brain tumor.

Everything looks very good on paper, so the doctor says. Still there is no simple brain tumor. You can read Matt's entries to the caring bridge site.

I don't think much learning will be getting done at Deerwood tomorrow, and I don't think Easter folks will be able to focus on anything much more than the continuous prayer that started less than a week ago.

Never was there a kid more loved, and lifted in prayer than Henry Franken is right now.

Be with Henry tomorrow. Be with Kate and Matt and the grandparents. Be with the children and teachers of Deerwood. Be with my friend Pastor Kris. Be with the doctor who knows the intricacies of the human brain more than we can even imagine. Be with every nurse. Send your angels to surround the entire hospital, to guard everyone there. Lord, we need 100% here. One hundred percent success. We ask for a clean removal of that which does not belong in that precious perfect kid. We know that Henry is your child, but he's also the child of Kate and Matt and the child of Deerwood and the child of Easter. We want our kid to get on with his life. Hear the prayers of us all. We love you Lord.