Car Trips, Broken Ice, and Laughter

Today we drove about an hour north to go visit my parents. My youngest daughter had a birthday and we were going to celebrate with Grandma and Grandpa. We had seven kids in the car, our oldest three off living their own lives. We were traveling on a small country highway and I was looking outside enjoying the view: farmland, creeks and rivers, pretty little towns. We were driving along and I noticed a pasture covered in puddles which had then frozen over. I suddenly had a memory of living on my grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky, maybe ten years old, stomping around on a cold winter day. I was wearing my old light blue tennis shoes, full of holes but wonderfully comfortable, my old worn out blue jeans, hand-me-downs from my older brother, my pink puffy jacket with decorative flaps on the front and secret inside pockets, an old knit hat and a worn out pair of gloves. I remember stomping through my aunt’s pasture where her ponies lived. The ground was covered in muddy indentations from the ponies’ hooves and each indentation had filled with water from the earlier rains and now had frozen over. I remember the sensation of the thin ice cracking under my feet, my foot bending with the frozen ridges in the ground. Stumbling along as I tried to find more ice to break under my feet. I remembered all this and then felt a pang. My children would not have those country-living memories. They were city kids. And I felt this overwhelming longing to just uproot my family and move to a farm so my kids could know the joy of running through fields in winter, breaking ice under their feet.

We spent the day with my parents and then loaded up the van to drive home again. I love car trips. I love just looking out the window and thinking about whatever random topics pop into my head. I love looking at the houses that we pass, wondering about the people who live there. Watching the sky turn colors until it’s just the stars making tiny dots of light. Seeing the dark hulk of hills looming in the distance. As we drove tonight I thought about all the roads I had traveled on in my life. I remembered driving home from Cap Haitien, Haiti to our little house on the mountainside. Laying on a bench in the back of our truck, watching the moon chase us down the road, marveling that we could never outrun the moonlight. I remember driving on sandy gravelly roads in the bush town of Bethel, Alaska, looking out from the road into pure darkness, no lights to interrupt the horizon, only our little island of a town, floating on the tundra. I remembered driving the Alaska Highway, the vast forests of never-ending trees. And all the other roads, highways in Chile, cross-country road trips out West. I felt melancholy. I couldn’t share these things with my children. I couldn’t give them these experiences.

As we drove along I started tuning in to what was happening in the car. In the very back seat my eleven and nine year old boys had made up their own little game. The eleven year old was singing favorite Disney songs, but he would stop at key words, MadLib style, and then the nine year old would fill in a random word. In the next row up were my two little girls, seven and six. They were giggling and laughing their heads off at the antics of their brothers, sometimes offering a suggestion of a word here and there. Lots of singing. Lots of laughing. In the next row up my four year old and two year old were strapped into their carseats, the thirteen year old sitting next to them, trying to ignore them. The four year old was holding up different shells from a little container of shells that his grandma had given him. He was explaining that if you held up the shell to your ear,  you could hear the ocean. Then he held up a different shell and said, “In this shell you can hear a crab playing rock and roll on his guitar.” He studied the shell thoughtfully for a minute and then pulled out another shell. “In this shell you can hear a turtle biting a fish.” And on it went, each shell with it’s own story. The two year old was fussing and wanted to hold my hand, but his carseat was a bit too far back and so in order to hold his hand I had to bend my body backwards, stretching as far as I could. It was a position I could only maintain for a couple minutes. I would finally feel something snapping in my back and I would pull my hand back and he would instantly start fussing again. My husband started making up a lullaby with silly words for him in an attempt to distract him. And it occurred to me. My kids have these memories. These are good memories. They are worth having. Memories of outings with the family. Memories of singing and laughter. Memories of talking to Mom and Dad about your shells. Memories of being loved.

I am so happy that I don’t have to replicate my own childhood for my children in order for them to have happy, fulfilling memories. They’re writing their own stories, and those stories are good.

Stories From My Journey to Worship

I think one of my favorite journeys that I have been on is the journey of learning how to worship God through music. As a child my family sang a lot. My father had in fact been in a musical group all through his growing up years with his siblings, performing on the Christian Radio Station where his parents worked, performing for churches in the states when his family would come back on furlough (usually a year long break from the mission field, a time spent visiting supporters and speaking at many many churches and events). Music runs pretty deep in my family. My father plays the guitar and my mother sings alto and my brother and I quickly learned how to sing the melody while our parents harmonized and then later learned how to harmonize ourselves. I loved to sing for the sheer beauty of it. As a teen my brother and I and our friends formed a tradition, whenever we were driving in a car together, coming back from a trip to the beach or some other type outing, we would sing together. We would sing worship and praise songs and hymns, and usually the songs had parts and we would split into parts and it was the perfect way to end the day, driving home, tired, making beautiful music.

As I got older I slowly started focusing a bit more on the words that I was singing. I think I started doing this at the suggestion of a worship leader or pastor, and it kind of stuck with me. When I went to Biola University I was exposed to a lot more of the modern style of worship: words printed on a screen above the stage, all electric instruments with a good set of drums, easy, repetitive type songs that never quite have a clear melody line. It was the kind of music that you kind of spaced-out a bit when singing. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the music. It was just very different from what I was used to. But I started noticing something when I attended various worship sessions. There seemed to be a different attitude in the people who were singing. Like, it wasn’t so much about whether your voice sounded perfect or you played a really good solo, or sang a song that was technically difficult. It seemed to be more about disappearing into the song. What I mean, is that the song, the words of the song, who they were about was the focus, not the music that was being created. I enjoyed this new way of singing, I enjoyed the feeling of peace that was in the room and I slowly started learning how to turn my focus on God instead of the music.   

One of my big moments on my worship journey happened when I was twenty. I attended Biola for two years and then “took a break” (that never ended) and went overseas for a year. I spent my first four months in Haiti. I lived with Laurie and Jules Casseus, my old piano teacher from Haiti. I was kind of crashing emotionally and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life and Aunt Laurie ended up doing a lot of listening as I poured out my troubled thoughts. I was staying with them over Christmas (my first Christmas away from home!) and I was quickly caught up in all the Christmas Music performances. Aunt Laurie has a beautiful voice and she had been asked to sing “Oh Holy Night” at a church function in the nearby city of Cap Haitien. She asked me if I would accompany her on the piano and so I dutifully practiced with her and we quickly got it ready to perform. The night of the performance we drove into Cap Haitien to a large concrete church that I had never been to before. My hazy recollection of the church is that it had a large balcony that went around the entire upstairs with the section in the front of the church becoming part of a large stage-like area where the pastor preached, people sang, and I don’t know what else. My memories for architecture aren’t that great though, so I might be a bit off on that. I do remember that I was shown to a little alcove where there was a small, inexpensive keyboard, jury-rigged to a questionable sound system. There was no sustain pedal for the keyboard and so I quickly looked through my music, figuring out how to accommodate to a much smaller keyboard without a sustain pedal. I’m not a big fan on being the center of attention so this particular set up was a dream come true. I was sitting back, kind of out of the way, there were a lot of different people on the stage, and I was simply accompanying, so the focus was on Aunt Laurie. I had this. Aunt Laurie was singing in French. The words to the French version are actually not translated directly in our English version. We’re actually singing something pretty different when we sing the song in English.

Here is a literal translation of the final verse from French into English which I found handily on Wikipedia:

The Redeemer has broken every bond:

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,

Love unites those that iron had chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude,

For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

So, here I am accompanying on my little keyboard and Aunt Laurie reaches the final verse. She’s singing and suddenly the whole church rises to their feet and starts singing along, “People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,” and suddenly I’m not accompanying one person, but instead I’m playing along with hundreds and hundreds of people. But it didn’t matter because I was singing along too and I think I may have been crying a bit because what happened felt like Jesus had suddenly walked onto the stage and everyone saw him and they all stood up and started worshiping him and no one wanted it to stop. I think we ran through the chorus several times, I’m not sure.

After the service we drove home in silence, through the dark, unlit night. We got to the top of the small mountain pass that was close to our home and the driver pulled the car over at Aunt Laurie’s urging. The car stopped and the motor turned off. We climbed out of the car and stared out at the valley below us and then looked up. It was the most clear I have ever seen the Milky Way. It was like we were surrounded by stars and they were dancing in the sky in their own form of worship to their creator and I experienced the meaning of the word “awe”. We just stood there in silence and my heart felt like it was going to explode, it was so full.

The memory of that night has stayed with me, I think because it was a rich experience of worship through music in a way that I had unknowingly always been longing for. Focusing on Jesus, using the music to communicate my love for him, my awe of him, my longing for him. The music was just the conduit. Worship. It’s about focusing everything on him and saying, You Are Worthy.

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