Sunrises, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and My New Piano

Sunrises. I love sunrises. For many years I have been too tired to get up and enjoy them. Nowadays, though,  I am driving my kids to school early every morning and during the winter I have been enjoying a lot of sunrises. My kids’ school is only about two miles away. It takes us maybe five minutes to get there. Part of the drive to the school involves going up a big hill and then we crest at the top and suddenly we have a big view of mountains and mist and red orange light peeking through the clouds. It’s amazing. Every morning I can’t stop myself from exclaiming to the kids, “Everybody look at the sunrise! It’s amazing!” And the kids have learned to oooh and aaahh right along with me. Thanking God for the sunrise is part of our morning prayers. I have always imagined God standing at an easel, throwing paint on left and right, painting the sunrise every day. God the Creator. The Creative One.

The other day as I was driving along, enjoying the beautiful colors, I thought about how we are created in the image of God. I’ve always wondered about that, what it means exactly. I thought about God painting the sky every morning, making art and it occurred to me that when we create things, make our own art, we are, in a small sense, being like God. We were made to create because we were made in the Creator’s image.

I thought about music. I love music, but I have struggled with music over the years. As a teenager I used music as an emotional outlet. A way to vent, a way to express emotions, a safe place to feel emotions. As life got more and more complicated, harder, I found myself shying away from music. As I look back, I can see where I struggled to keep depression away, and one of my solutions to not dealing with depression or anger or a bunch of other unresolved feelings, was to shy away from feeling any emotion. Just stay neutral. Calm.

The only problem with this approach is that when you don’t allow yourself to feel bad emotions, the really good emotions go away as well. I don’t think you can fully live in joy if you don’t also allow yourself to mourn. You can’t have peace if you don’t go through the conflict first. You can’t have happiness if you don’t deal with the anger. I think that as I shut myself down emotionally, I also shut down music. I just couldn’t do it. Music was too closely tied to emotions. I could sometimes sit down and play through some Bach or Mozart in an attempt to make my brain feel orderly, but I wasn’t feeling it. And so I mostly avoided it.

Lately, I have been looking at getting back into music. My husband, excited that I was showing an interest again, went out and got me an old 1935 Wurlitzer Baby Grand, for a really good price off Craig’s List. I went with him and helped him move it. It’s a perfect fit for our house.  It’s got some history, apparently it’s original owner was a violinist with the Knoxville Symphony and she died after a long happy life at the age of 103. It’s also a bit dinged up and scratched here and there which means we won’t have to freak out if our kids add another scratch or ding. I rearranged our entire living room so that I now have a Music Room at one end. I have started practicing a bit every day. Scales, warmups, old songs I played in high school. Just easing myself back into it. I have really been enjoying myself, but I’ve wondered about the emotional side of it. Can I relax enough to let myself play with feeling? Can I let myself feel the sadness in the song? Can I let myself feel again? I’ve been a bit worried that maybe I can’t any more. Maybe that part of me is gone. 

Today I was working on getting my piano music moved to a different bookcase and I found a piece of music that I didn’t even know I owned, “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s REQUIEM. My copy was a vocal duet with piano accompaniment. It’s a beautiful, simple song written in latin. The English translation that is written on the music gives the words as this:

Merciful Jesus, who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

Oh Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, grant them eternal rest.

I sat down and started to sing it and play along. Alas. I am not a talented soprano and there was no way I could sing that high. My voice couldn’t bring justice to the beauty of the song. I stopped playing for a minute. And then I remembered my piano teacher, Ms. Wong, telling me to make the notes sing, make the melody sing. And I realized, I can’t sing the song, but I can make the piano sing it. And I did. And my fingers made the melody sing and it was beautiful. When I finally finished I sat there, feeling fidgety, like I needed to get up and do something. I stood up and went over the other side of my living room where I was still rearranging other books onto a shelf. (Moving my living room around created a couple projects I hadn’t been anticipating.) I was putting books back onto an empty shelf and I picked up my old Bible from years ago. I flipped it open and found myself in the book of Job, and I suddenly just wanted to read this chapter. Job 9. In this chapter Job talks about how powerful God is and how unworthy he, Job, is. In verse 33-35 he says,

“If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

I stopped reading and thought about how horrible that would be to have the full burden of your sins on your shoulders and no way to approach God because He is too Holy. And I suddenly realized that the song I had just played was an answer to Job’s predicament. Jesus takes away the sin of the world, and grants us rest. He removed God’s rod of punishment from us.

I went back to the piano, stared at the music again, and with fresh wonder, played the song again. And while I played, some tears fell, and I felt just a bit like my ice wall around my emotions started to crack a bit more. And I felt hopeful. Excited. I have missed music and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed it.

Here is a link to a recording of “Pie Jesu” if you’d like to hear it.

“Pie Jesu”

Fat Fridays: Week 3 Emotional Eating

I was trying to think about the reasons why I eat. If I was just eating because I was hungry, I don’t think I would have weight issues. From what I can tell, your body naturally regulates how much food you need and when you need it with this thing called hunger and fullness. It’s when we start eating for reasons other than hunger, and when we keep eating even when we’re full..that’s when we run into problems.

So, top of the list. Emotional Eating. I looked up the definition and it says, basically, overeating to relieve negative emotions. For some reason, when I am angry, depressed, angry, bored with life, angry, or maybe just angry, I eat. Eating gives you this short rush of nice feelings and usually you can continue on and pretend like those negative emotions never happened. Until, of course, they pop back up again. But then you just eat again and put it off again and on and on it goes.

I seem to have an intense dislike for feeling negative emotions. I don’t want to feel angry. I don’t want to feel sad. I don’t want to feel melancholy. I just want everything to be pleasant. I don’t just use food to avoid these feelings. I use entertainment. Read a book and forget about it. Check Facebook and calm down. Scroll through useless articles on the internet and zone out.

So here’s the question. Why? Why am I so opposed to feeling negative emotions? Is it because I am a peaceful person and things like Anger feel wrong? Or maybe I have just always tried to fill the role of the “good girl” and feeling bad doesn’t fit that image? Or maybe, our society does not give healthy examples of people dealing with strong emotions and so I have no role models?

There is a verse in the Bible, Ephesians 4:26-27 that says,

“In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

I have always liked the fact that the verse seems to assume that you are going to get angry. Getting angry is part of being alive. It’s what you do with that anger that can get you in trouble.

My anger tends to erupt when people have inconvenienced me. Which just shows how deep my sin nature and selfishness is. I struggle with borderline road rage. I’m not out of control, I just sit there and mutter about the other drivers. I am aware that this is a problem and I have started repeating to myself when I drive, “It’s not all about you…It’s not all about you..” Because really, road rage is the presumption that all the other vehicles in the road should do everything possible to make sure that YOUR driving experience is smooth and trouble free. When someone is going  too slow when I’m in a hurry, I feel inconvenienced, and my little selfish self speaks up and says, HEY! How dare you! Don’t you know I’m in a hurry! Stop driving like that, it’s inconveniencing me! (Of course, not so eloquently put, more like me muttering under my breath about idiots and people who don’t know how to drive.)

Of course, the way I get inconvenienced the most is by my children. Those lovely, beautiful human beings my husband and I helped create. They have this amazing way of spilling cups of juice on my freshly mopped floor, or wiping snotty noses on my clean shirt, or accidentally breaking my favorite mug, or wanting me to intervene in an argument right when I’m trying to cook supper…They are masters at inconveniencing me. Unfortunately, my selfish side tends to react and I get angry. And I really don’t want to be angry at my kids. When I first had children in my early twenties and had two toddlers on my hands, I indulged in some pretty impressive temper tantrums when the kids wouldn’t cooperate.  The most dramatic was when my little ones wouldn’t help clean up their toys and I stood at the doorway and threw their toys into the yard. Hopefully, I’ve matured a lot since then. I’ve learned to walk away when I’m angry and go cool down. I’ve learned a bit better how to hold my tongue and not say things I’ll regret later, and most important, when those tactics fail, I’ve learned better how to go and apologize to my children when I mess up. Good things. Bad thing though is that somewhere along the way I figured out that when I’m really upset, eating something helps you calm down faster. In fact, eating something can help you calm down without having to do any thinking or analyzing about Why you got angry, and What can you do to change things so you don’t get angry again over the same thing?

That’s the problem. Eating something makes you feel better for a short amount of time, but it never gets to the root. It never forces you confront your own sin nature, beg God for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, make changes so that you can handle these things better. All it does it covers up the emotion for a while so you can postpone feeling it.

I think I am scared about feeling strong emotions. Like I might not be able to handle it. Like it’s a giant wave that’s going to knock me down and I might never resurface. I don’t know why I’m afraid. I’ve got Jesus. He said he was never going to leave me or forsake me. He said his grace was sufficient for me. He’s not going to leave me alone with these uncomfortable emotions. I have a feeling that if I actually started confronting the anger and trying to dig down to the roots of it, I have a feeling that it would lessen, ease up, that I would be a healthier person.

So this is my challenge for this week: to stop trying to cover up the emotions with food. Those emotions are there for a reason. I need to let myself feel them. Take them to God in prayer, ask for wisdom to understand where these emotions are coming from and what to do with them. That’s the plan. May God give me the courage to do it.

Morning Sickness and the Presence of God

Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  This is the official term for really bad morning sickness or “excessive vomiting during pregnancy”. I have 10 children (plus 2 miscarriages, equal a grand total of 12 children). Every single one of my pregnancies found me throwing up for several months. The first pregnancy the nausea didn’t stop till I was 20 weeks. Through each pregnancy that time period got a little bit shorter, but the shortest duration was still 15 weeks. Each pregnancy I averaged about a 20 pound weight loss at the beginning and usually had at least 2 trips to the ER for severe dehydration. I took a variety of medicine, but through trial and error, discovered that all but one gave me the wonderful side effects of severe panic attacks. My intense dislike of panic attacks meant I would choose vomiting over anxiety. I finally settled on taking Zofran which was very expensive and really just kept the edge off enough that I could stay alive. I know that sounds melodramatic, but that’s what it felt like.

This is what severe morning sickness is like. It’s your body saying to you, if you drink something, I’m going to make you throw up, if you eat something, I’m going to make you throw up, if you walk around at all, I’m going to make you throw up. So what do you do?  Well, I eventually worked out a strategy. Get up, go throw up, quickly take a Zofran with a tiny bit of water, sit very still. Eat something high starch and very salty (the last several pregnancies I settled on Velveeta mac and cheese), take another sip of water, and then lay very very still. Don’t move. No interactions with people. My goal was to not throw up for at least 3 hours so that my body could at least digest some of the food. About 3 hours later, I would repeat the process, except maybe this time eat a little bit of melon or eat some frozen pomegranate juice. (I had a really weird diet, only a handful of things sounded doable, and it was always random. Later when I would start to feel a bit better and get some appetite back, I would always crave green beans and boiled potatoes. Weird.) I counted up the my daily calories once and I averaged somewhere between 600-900 calories a day, depending on what kind of day I was having. The hardest part was being constantly dehydrated. I kept a glass of ice water by my bed but could only manage a sip here and there, anything more made me throw up. I would lay in my bed and dream about water. I usually day dreamed about being up in the mountains at the river, jumping into the icy coldness, hearing the sound of bubbling water. I would think about waterfalls, and picturesque lakes. I craved water. Sometimes I would go and get a little stool and just sit in the shower, letting the water rush over me, hoping that my skin would absorb some of the water and make me feel better.

I did this 10 times. (The 2 pregnancies where I miscarried, I had no morning sickness. Which made me change my perspective as I started recognizing morning sickness as a sign of a healthy pregnancy.) I am sure you are wondering why I did this so many times. Well, very early in our marriage my husband and I decided that we wanted God to determine our family size. I was willing to commit to this method one child at a time. After each pregnancy, I would think there was No Way in Hell I would ever do that to myself again, but when it came time to discuss birth control, I never felt comfortable. I still felt like this was something I was supposed to do. I loved my children. I loved having a large family. Really, my only problem with lots of pregnancies was the morning sickness. I do think that we have the exact right number of children for us. I am going to base this on the fact that when we finally decided that we were done, I had no regrets, no second thoughts, no ambiguity. I knew we were done. I hadn’t felt that peace beforehand.

During my times of morning sickness I would worry about my family. I think for the first couple pregnancies I felt guilty, like I was somehow failing my husband and children because I wasn’t up and taking care of things. After a while, common sense kicked in and I stopped feeling guilty. It takes two to get pregnant and my husband knew that I was going to get sick, so he could now deal with the consequences and take care of the family while I laid in bed for a couple months. And, he rose to the occasion. No children were lost, no one starved to death, the house didn’t burn down. Everyone learned to appreciate mom a bit more.

Being in bed for months on end does something to you though. I usually had one of two responses when I got sick. I either got really depressed or I got really angry. Depressed because there was no end in sight. I knew I wanted more children which meant I would have to go through this again. Anger because why on earth would God give me the kind of body that hates pregnancy, but at the same time give me a desire to have lots of children? Each time I had to do a lot of soul searching, a lot of talks with God, and as I started feeling better, I had to give myself a lot of grace to just recover from the whole thing.

My last pregnancy was different. I found myself just feeling resigned. Ok. I’ve got to do this. I’m going to read a bunch of good books, I’m going to watch TV shows, I’m going to distract myself as much as possible and endure.

During this time God gave me the most interesting gift I’ve ever had. The nausea had reached the point of no return and I ran to the bathroom, knelt in front of the toilet and started throwing up. Suddenly God spoke to me. Very clearly. He said, “Am I still worthy of praise?” My first response was, “What? Now? You’re talking to me now?” and then, as I continued to throw up, I thought back to him, since talking was not an option, “Yes, you are worthy of praise. Even now. I give you praise.” And suddenly I felt God’s presence heavy on me and now I was crying and sobbing. The sickness finally passed. I got up, cleaned up, staggered back to my bed. I lay there feeling a bit confused.  I had just gone through a holy moment. A very unexpected, out of the box holy moment. I must say I did not expect God’s presence to show up while I was kneeling in front of a toilet. God had just let me participate in that thing called “a sacrifice of praise”. Praising God when things aren’t going well, when you’re not feeling blessed, when life kind of sucks. I call this a gift from God because I can tell you that in my own strength I never would have thought about praising God while I was throwing up. Never. It was a gift because he got my attention, he gave me an opportunity to offer him a sacrifice of praise, and I think it’s one of the most holy moments I have ever had in my life. Because He is Worthy. He is Worthy of our Praise. No matter what is happening in your life, he is Worthy. And when we praise him it actually strengthens us, because we step into his presence for a moment.  We experience his Love and Peace and Goodness, and in my experience, that’s what I need to make it through this life.