IF NOT JUST FOR ME

Okay…I know theologically that people aren’t the same as angels, and people don’t “get their wings.” Now that you understand that I understand this, I will feel the freedom for a little poetic license in this blog of mine.

Other than our immediate family, God sends us extraordinary people at different times in our lives. Ones that are obvious divine gifts…. beautiful angels I think. Curiously, I’ve had three strong women in my life named Holly. They have inspired me, encouraged me, helped me, strengthened me, loved me and cared for me. I will tell you about them in the order in which we met.

First is my treasured niece, Holly Nelson. She was a bright shining light wherever she went. She gravitated to those that others missed in the fury of life. A gifted artist, she lived and loved in a home that was filled with music. We could hardly wait to see what she would do next as she continually made all of us feel that the world was a field of blossoming hope. To soon she would be gone. At age 25, there was an accident, and she was off to better things…. heavenly things. The hurt of missing her has never left my heart.

Next, Holly Krig-Smith is an amazingly exceptional person. For years she managed my life when I was a producer, songwriter and publisher. Never have I experienced the rare combination of total professionalism and genuine people skills as she has. It’s hard to explain. Let’s just say there was never a time that I wanted or waited for anything related to scheduling, studio preparations, travel arrangements, hiring or handling difficult people problems. Her work was meticulous and the companies with which I worked were given immaculately detailed budgetary and album credit Information. It was like she could read my mind and had already handled any issue. She is kind, brightly creative, understood the song world perfectly, and all while being the organizational center of the planet. She loves Pam and the children, and we love Steve, Maddie and Emma. We don’t see each other often, but keep up and cheer for them from a distance. She is the director of Fine Arts at King’s Ridge Christian School in Atlanta, and is rockin’ the house in that capacity as well.

One of the most precious of Holly’s is Holly Rudge. In the winter of my days, I am contending with many things that I have recounted in previous blogs. They are daily and limiting all rolled up into one. Holly and I have played in our orchestra at church, for weddings and other occasions. Her family to me is one of the best things that ever happened in this season of my life. Holly instinctively understands me. She knows I can’t see very well and helps me organize my music, makes sure my stand is lighted, that I have the roadmap for each song and that my music is blown up so I can see it. She laughs at my jokes, talks to me and makes me feel like I matter, and in this stage of life, there are occasional days when I’m not so strong..not so sure. How do I possibly describe this kind of tender care? I can hardly wait for her to get to her chair next to me so I can get a hug …and that smile of hers…yeah….the smile. She is extremely sensitive to others, a fabulous musician, hard working and always kind. Did I mention that all three of these women are absolutely beautiful? Their faces radiate vulnerability, yet, strength, and each defines what is a radiant servant spirit.

I don’t ever want to forget those who have brought so much meaning to my life. I never tire of being thankful to so many who have done so much. Angels they are…..if not just for me.

ONE BETHLEHEM NIGHT

I’m sitting here in our great room enjoying our lighted tree and the beautiful decorations that Pam has spent so much time putting up. I was in Minnesota eating lutefisk so I can’t take any credit. She did it all.

Christmas and all the decorations have so many different meanings to people. Some see the season as a time of good cheer, goodwill toward men and peace on earth. Some don’t care a bit about Christmas and there are those who are offended by all the hoopla.

This is a picture of a dear, long-time musical friend of mine from Bismarck, North Dakota. Her name is Leslie Smith, and she passed away this week. She is a lover. She is a lover of people, of music, of those with whom she worked….and most of all, of her family, and faith in Jesus the Christ.

I say this because Leslee’s passing points out how deeply meaningful this holiday is to the Christian community. Believers around the world find their eternal hope through the birth of Jesus, His redemptive work on the cross and the Resurrection. It was in these elements that Leslee found assurance as she moved from this life to the next. And all made possible because God came to us by way of a humble, yet glorious personal encounter, one Bethlehem night.

PROUD OF MY SISTER

It’s probably one of the most beautiful sounds you’ll ever hear. The annual St. Olaf Christmas Concert in Northfield, Minnesota.

Not only is there a Christmas concert, but a smorgasbord of Norwegian cuisine including lutefisk and lefse prior to the concert that will fling any cod-blooded norske into nordic ecstasy . This is Mecca, this is Scandinavian Nirvana, This is…..The Promise Land

I come up to the snowy north country at least twice a year. My sister, Sigrid and I are kinda like twins born in different years. We know what the other is thinking…it’s freaky! She’s about 3+ years younger than me. My brother and sister could not possibly be any closer and more proud of each other’s abilities then we are. Just not possible.

Before she and her husband retired in 2015, Sigrid spent the better part of her career as an Artist-In-Residence at this college, conducting the Manitou Singers.

Let’s get one thing straight….my brother and my gifts pale in comparison to our little sister. She operates on an entirely different musical level than either of us. She is a sought after choral clinician and conductor all over the world.

Sigrid is a three time featured lecturer at the World Symposium on Choral Music, and member of the esteemed jury for the Béla Bartók International Choral Competition in Debrecen, Hungary. She has prepared symphonic choruses for Neemi Jarvi, Sir Neville Marriner, David Zinman, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Gerard Schwarz, Edo de Waart, and Leonard Slatkin, among others.

Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf choir, tapped her to takeover the conducting duties of the chorale during his sabbatical. Armstrong said “she has the best ears in choral music.”

Her husband Robert (BJ) Johnson, former manager of musical organizations during his tenure at St. Olaf, is a brilliant marketer and entrepreneurial leader of all things organizational. He concluded his career by receiving an Emmy Award for the television production of the “St. Olaf Choir Concert In Norway.”

Do I seem proud of my sister and her husband….well….I AM!!!!!!

AN OCEAN OF SOULS

Sweeping forested vistas, scary car rides up the mountain, ice skating, catching up conversations by a fire, meals together and children’s squeals of laughter…. these were the sights and sounds of our family’s Thanksgiving weekend.

Our children, Ben and Emily, Sarah and Damian, called us about a month ago and surprised us by telling us they wanted to celebrate our 70th birthdays together. They rented a huge cabin outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and invited us to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with both of their families. They were so excited and we were so overtaken by how thrilled these thoughtful two wonders of ours were. Both Pam and I couldn’t believe it…. pretty emotional stuff for both of us.

Our children know us…. they know our tendencies to keep things simple. We don’t have a bucket list…. we’ve done everything that we have dreamed for ourselves…. but this this is a whole different universe from a bucket list. This is what fulfills Pam and me beyond description. We were waited on, hand and foot…like royalty. This entire weekend embodied all things family….and all things poignant and beautiful.

Getting to watch our littlest granddaughter, cousin celebrity and family ringmaster, Maya interacting with Sarah’s girls, or snuggling in the early mornings with Tessa, our 7 year old princess, joking back and forth with our 11 year old fashionista, Blythe, and get tickled silly by my fourteen year old gem, Georgia, I counted a pleasure…lavish….and humbling.

In our time together, I thought about a phrase I have used before referring to how secluded our lives become by living in our own “little harbors”, and unconsciously thinking that’s the way everyone lives. There are countless families who have never experienced what Pam and I did this weekend. It’s okay to enjoy what we have, but a real insular misstep is to forget that this is not the way all the world works in God’s teeming ocean of souls.

ON OLD AGE

AN OCEAN OF SOULS

Sweeping forested vistas, scary car rides up the mountain, ice skating, catching up conversations by a fire, meals together and children’s squeals of laughter…. these were the sights and sounds of our family’s Thanksgiving weekend.

Our children, Ben and Emily, Sarah and Damian, called us about a month ago and surprised us by telling us they wanted to celebrate our 70th birthdays together. They rented a huge cabin outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and invited us to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with both of their families. They were so excited and we were so overtaken by how thrilled these thoughtful two wonders of ours were. Both Pam and I couldn’t believe it…. pretty emotional stuff for both of us.

Our children know us…. they know our tendencies to keep things simple. We don’t have a bucket list…. we’ve done everything that we have dreamed for ourselves…. but this this is a whole different universe from a bucket list. This is what fulfills Pam and me beyond description. We were waited on, hand and foot…like royalty. This entire weekend embodied all things family….and all things poignant and beautiful.

Watching our littlest granddaughter, cousin celebrity and family ringmaster, Maya interacting with Sarah’s girls, or snuggle in the early mornings with Tessa, our 7 year old princess, joke back and forth with our 11 year old fashionista, Blythe, and get tickled silly by my fourteen year old gem, Georgia…. I counted it a pleasure…lavish….humbling.

In our time together, I thought about a phrase I have used before referring to how secluded our lives become by “living in our own little harbors”, and unconsciously thinking that’s the way everyone lives. There are countless families who have never experienced what Pam and I did this weekend. It’s okay to enjoy what we have, but a real insular misstep is to forget that this is not the way all the world works in God’s teeming ocean of souls.

WHERE THE FLOWERS HAVE GONE

Much is written of honor and loss on this perennial marking of Veteran’s Day. For me, not just a casual observance.

The victorious soldier conquers not only the enemy, but the bundled tumult of bubbling fear, homesickness, escape, submission to authority and the impending bedlam. I know nothing of this, the battlefield and it’s realtime reality. I was spared from it. Internally I wished not to be in that situation, but was willing to go, yet ultimately my military service ended up stateside. I did not live for war… few did…but these brave ones whether inspired, resigned or reticent…marched on. Today, I celebrate those who did.

I also cannot forget the residual familial wreckage of the battlefield…and the avalanche of death and bewilderment in the aftermath. Today, I celebrate those who live or have lived through it.

I have lost dear friends to this disease of war. ..and today, still wonder where all the flowers have gone.

MY SWEET BABUSHKAu

I was watching traffic as I sat at a bus stop in Zelenograd, Russia, and the late October air felt crisp and chilly. All of a sudden I felt these little hands rubbing against my shirt. I turned my head, and there she was, a beautiful 90 -year old babushka (grandmother) smiling at me. “Where is your coat?” My dear friend, Marla translated her question for me. “You are going to get very cold,” she went on. She rubbed my arms and smiled. It took me no time to put my arm around her and she cuddled right up next to me. I joked, “Mother didn’t catch me before I got out of my apartment.” She chuckled as she heard my translated reply. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my yearly trip to Russia.

I cannot begin to tell you about all the precious people I met in my short 11-day stay. Musicians from all over Russia and beyond journeyed from Norilsk, Omsk, Siberia, Atyrau, Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan, Chisinau, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Yaroslavl, Russia to name just a few. Some flew for three hours or drove for a day and a half to participate in the RussiaWorship Conference. The event was hosted by the founders of RussiaWorship, Gerry and Marla Schroeder.

The Russians are a hearty people, and in the urban centers have grown up with buses, trains and a whole lot of walking. I know this first hand, because the first day I visited the city center of Moscow and literally walked for 5 hours with additional bus and train rides. I could see the influence of the World Cup being held there, because most every major site and public transport were in both English and Russian. This was not so in previous years when I visited.

We hear so much about Russia in negative terms, but there is a major difference between political action and the actual citizenry. The welcoming spirit and kindness shown to me was persistently overwhelming. I think of my sweet friends, Kristina and Dima, who took Bob Clark and me to their home. We had the most restful and delightful time in their beautiful apartment. We talked of their life there, of family, of dreams we had for the future and our mutual love of God. I don’t know how it could have been a better day spent for me. At the conference, there was so much love shown to me as I spent time listening and exchanging ideas with the unbelievably gifted creatives.

It was the little things that meant so much, like the bar of chocolates from Tatiana. Tatiana is a wonderful musician, marathoner, translator, and pastor now living in Minsk. I have known her for years and she and her family have become so dear to me. She came to me and said, “Would you give this bar of chocolates to Pam., do you think she would enjoy it?” without hesitation I replied…”Does it get dark at night?” I gave her a most thankful hug. It’s these moments that being me back. These eager young writers, musicians and artists are so willing to listen and become more proficient. However, they don’t realize it is the US team who are the beneficiaries of their input as well. A glorious give and take to be sure. And how could I forget my brilliant interpreter, Marsha (Mahsha) Vikhrova. I can’t thank her enough for all she did for me.

I am never the same person I was upon my arrival, as I am when I leave. Looking out the window of the airplane on my way back home, I knew this. I need no language skills to love these kindly hearts…. and oh, my sweet “babushka…. Dasvidaniya.