The Piano Gathering
It started out as just another routine night of walking the halls and checking doors and windows. I’m the assistant manager of an ‘over fifty-five’ senior condominium community and many nights it falls to me to check all three floors to make sure the building is secure for the evening.
As I made my rounds last Saturday, I heard a group of people on the 3rd floor engaged in a sing-a-long with the karaoke machine. I stopped to listen for a minute and nodded a friendly greeting to a few familiar faces before moving on to complete my rounds.
My evening ritual of ‘closing up the building’ is part of my daily exercise routine (thanks to the many hallways and stairwells) and I usually look forward to making sure all is well in the building.
But tonight was different. My husband was out of town on business for a few days and our cozy little apartment felt especially empty and quiet. I was missing him and feeling quite lonely as I made my rounds. It seemed like I was aimlessly wandering the halls – hoping to delay the inevitable return to our empty apartment and avoid a second night in solitary confinement with my lonely heart.
As I finished my rounds and returned to the third floor, I noticed the singers had migrated to the piano and were singing hymns. Over the past year, I had been invited to join them on several occasions but never had the time or desire. After all, these were people from a different generation and though I love these ‘golden-agers’ who occupy our building, I tend to avoid too much involvement and often gravitate toward ‘being friendly’ without becoming a friend.
Maybe it was the empty apartment or my lonely heart, but tonight something drew me to their little group. I cautiously stepped up to the piano and listened. Before long, I found myself joining in.
As we sang, I noticed an older gentleman singing with tears in his eyes. One woman sang with a beautiful smile radiating from her face and another closed her eyes and listened with an other-worldly look of pure peace and contentment on her face. Here was a group of seasoned saints from a previous generation who knew how to worship God – how to lift their voices together in joyous song and be blessed.
They had no idea what a blessing they were that evening – to someone like me who was in desperate need of their joyful hymns and harmonious spirits. But God knew. It was just a little thing but the gathering at the piano was God’s way of caring for me. Who would have known that standing around a piano with a bunch of 70, 80, and 90 year-old people would be exactly what I needed? Only God.
The Piano Gathering
Today is my birthday.
Sometimes on my birthday, I find myself thinking about past mistakes and things I coulda/woulda/shoulda done differently. But as I get older and hopefully wiser, I am realizing that life is not about the past but the future - and the only thing I can improve on is what I do with today, with this moment, and the next, and the next… throughout the coming year.
Like most of us, I lead a full and busy life. Now that I am retired, I often wonder how I ever found time to work. I sometimes find myself with too little time at the end of the day and realize that too much of my day was filled with unimportant things – low priority items.
So I am making a renewed effort to “reshuffle” my priorities and start putting first things first – reordering my life around the things that are really important to me. I want to live my daily life in a way that reflects my values. I want my relationship with Jesus, my marriage, my children and grandchildren to be the most important things in my life and I want to include work, friends, fun, and relaxation.
I want to get better at accepting myself as God’s special creation and work on being OK with who I am – on the inside and on the outside. I also plan to set aside time practice good health habits so that I am able to do all the things I dream about.
So this year, I intend to focus on the things that matter the most and to order my attitude, beliefs, and lifestyle in such a way that what I do truly reflects who I am. By God’s grace, I will change and grow this year and become healthier, happier, and more confident in my roles and responsibilities - as woman, wife, mother, grandmother, and child of God.
It was 6:30 PM. I looked out the window for the fourth time and wondered if he looked anything like his deep, sexy, masculine phone voice. My imagination was running wild with thoughts of how he might look. His voice was all I knew – and I was about to meet the man with the sexy voice for the first time.
It had started with Internet chats and emails. Then cyberspace morphed into telephone conversations with the “voice” and now I was waiting for Prince Charming to whisk me away on a romantic, creative, and highly anticipated first date. (We had become Prince Charming and Princess Cassandra in our third email exchange.)
When the empty spot in my driveway disappeared, I was relieved to see that my imagination had not deceived me. The man with the sexy voice really was tall, dark, and handsome and as I answered his knock and opened the door, his warm, friendly smile made his eyes sparkle and instantly put me at ease.
The dinner reservation was for 7:30 PM. As the maitre‘d led us to our table I noticed a heavy gold crown laden with colorful jewels next to the Prince Charming place card and a fragile tiara with diamonds that sparkled in the dim light next to the spot reserved for Princess Cassandra. Draped across the top of the tiara was a long-stemmed, peach colored rose (my favorite).
Curt (aka Prince Charming) put on his crown, placed the delicate tiara on my head, and informed me that the crowns must be worn all evening as he kissed my hand. Other diners were staring, smiling, and failing miserably in their attempts not to appear obvious. As we finished our meal, the lady sitting at the next table tapped me on the shoulder and asked how she could get a tiara like mine. With an impish grin, I said, “Well, you have to date a Prince.”
I usually try to avoid the spotlight but that night I realized that most of the women in the restaurant were wishing they were me. Prince Charming was making sure I was the center of attention and it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I found myself enjoying it. As we stood up to leave, Curt touched my face and drew me toward him for our first kiss. I heard the collective sighs of many women throughout the room and realized I was already smitten - and the night was still young.
He said we were going somewhere special for dessert. As we drove up to Portland’s world famous rose gardens, he asked about my favorite dessert (I had already told him in one of our early emails). When I said, “orange sherbert and chocolate ice cream,” he stopped at a scenic viewpoint and proceeded to dish up a bowl of my two favorite flavors from an ice chest in the trunk of the car.
After dessert, he produced his guitar and led me on a short walk to a gazebo strung with hundreds of little white twinkling lights. It was breathtaking. He then proceeded to serenade me with a song he had written especially for me. I was amazed. He later told me that he realized by singing an original song on a first date that it was probably going to be a make-or-break moment. He wondered if I’d be “swooning while he was crooning” or “bailing and hailing” a taxicab.
As it turned out, I did neither! Instead I fell in love on that magical night and later married the man who did indeed turn out to be my Prince Charming.
And they lived happily ever after…
I met my granddaughter Lily Haven for the first time on Friday. She was just a few hours old as her father placed her in my arms and I was overwhelmed with a sense of the amazing and powerful “specialness” of this new life. I felt the exact same way when I held each of her older brothers in my arms on the day they were born.
I wanted to hold her forever but realized I needed to share her so I passed her to her Grandpa. As I watched him holding her with such love on his face, I was once again reminded of how blessed I am to have a wonderful husband who loves and enjoys his grandkids as much as I do.
For me, life doesn’t get much better than having grandkids that are such a big part of our daily lives. We are blessed to live close enough to see them whenever we want – which is pretty close to everyday.
We stayed with our grandsons when Dad took Mom to the hospital to have Lily. On our drive to the hospital to meet their new little sister for the first time, my husband asked them about what they would say to her. After much deliberation, they both decided their first words would be “Hi” (a practical choice).
As I watched each of them meet their little sister for the first time, they both forgot to say hi. The oldest just looked at her with a mildly startled look on his face. When he thought no one was looking he touched her finger. A huge smile lit up his face when she wrapped her tiny fingers around his. The younger grandson was interested in holding her. As he climbed up onto the sofa and sat down, he held out his arms to receive her. At that moment it occurred to me that this little girl would forever change her brother’s lives as they love and accept her into their family.
While Lily was being passed around among family members, I pondered the many ways all of our lives will be impacted through the birth of this little girl. I whispered a prayer of thankfulness to God for his goodness and many blessings to us.
When it was time to go our son-in-law offered to walk us all to the car. As Dad and Grandpa followed the boys down the hall, I looked back to close the door and watched my daughter holding her new daughter in her arms. She kissed her tiny hand and with a look of pure love and joy on her face, held her close. For just a moment, the past thirty years fell away and it was me holding my little girl and kissing her tiny hand with the same look of pure love and joy on my face.
I gently closed her door and smiled as I once again thanked God for the miracle of new birth and all the love and blessings in my life.
Life is good. God is good. Welcome, Lily. You are loved.
“Does God know Santa?” my eight year-old grandson asked? The pressure was on. He still believes in Santa Claus and since God made everything and everyone and knows us all by name, I couldn’t say no.
I sent a quick prayer heavenward and asked for wisdom. Then I took a deep breath and… (wait for it), I told him, “Of course God knows Santa. He knows and loves everybody.” This seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the moment.
The childlike wonder and magical “specialness” of Christmas led to other questions about God and a chance to discuss the real reason for Christmas – the baby Jesus who was sent to earth by God as his special gift to us. We spent twenty minutes talking about the Christ child and God’s love for us. It was a special time for me to see his young heart so open to the true message of Christmas.
He was fascinated by the story of baby Jesus and the celebration of his birth in a stable and his bed of straw in a manger. The story of the wonderful angels who lit up the night sky proclaiming wonderful news to the shepherds in nearby fields evoked a number of questions. As I answered them, I began to see Christmas through the eyes of a child for whom the wonder of God’s son sent to earth as a grand and glorious gift to all of mankind is profound.
By the end of our conversation he was a little closer to understanding the true meaning and real “magic” of Christmas – after all they don’t call it Santa-mas, do they?
I usually love decorating for the Christmas season. But this year as I sorted my way through boxes of decorations - trying to decide which ones would fit in our tiny, new condominium and which ones would be left in the boxes, sadness and a deep longing to return to our large home in the country overwhelmed me.
I missed our huge Christmas tree and windows filled with Yuletide greenery and candles. I remembered the tiny, white lights spread out over a cascade of greenery atop our piano and the colorful outdoors lights that framed our house and deck. I yearned for that “Home for the Holidays” feeling and wanted to celebrate the way we always had in the past. But the mounting stacks of boxes filled with unusable decorations with no place to be displayed reminded me in no uncertain terms of my new reality.
Willingly tumbling into a downward spiral of negative emotions, I started imagining that everything good about the Christmas season would now be gone forever. I recalled the simple Christmas traditions of wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, sipping hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows, and exchanging gifts with family and friends. I pictured the precious smile on my grandson’s face as he plunged cookie cutters into the dough while making Christmas cookies with me in my old kitchen. I remembered the fun we had baking and decorating them and the simple pleasure of sharing a few cookies with him along the way.
My self-pity grew to resentment as my husband brought in box after box of unusable Christmas treasures and I continued to convince myself that I would never again experience another precious Christmas memory in this dreary little condo. How could Christmas be special here with little to no room for my seemingly endless treasure trove of decorations?
I needed to do something, anything to take my mind off the resentment I felt for not being able to use all of my Christmas decorations. Unbeknownst to me, in the midst of my selfish attitude, God was already at work – preparing to answer the unspoken prayer of my heart.
I walked out of our tiny, dreary condo and headed down the hall toward the elevator. As I entered the third floor lobby I noticed someone else walking toward the elevators. We struck up a conversation and I learned that she was in charge of the decorations for the building and was looking for someone to decorate the third floor. Before I knew it, I was the newly-appointed volunteer in charge of decorating the entire third floor of our building for Christmas.
While my newfound friend was overjoyed at finding such a willing volunteer, I was beginning to realize that God was once again at work in my life. After my new friend finished showing me where all of the seasonal decorations were stored I hurried back to our little condo with a heart full of joy, excitement, and a childlike anticipation of Christmas cheer. I now had a plan for those stacked boxes of unusable Christmas decorations.
I dove into the stack of boxes again and after a long session of sorting, arranging, re-sorting, and re-arranging, I was ready to decorate the third floor. An angel with golden wings now presides over the coffee table near the double doors. My special glass vase sits atop the grand piano in the lobby surrounded by a gorgeous display of holiday greenery laced with tiny, white lights. A beautiful Christmas swag accented with rich, red candles adorns the mantle over the fireplace and the windows are filled with greenery and flowers. A holiday garland bedazzled with a shimmering assortment of Christmas decorations offers a festive greeting to residents as they step off the elevator. The unusable decorations transformed the third floor lobby into a beautiful tribute to the Christmas season.
As I decorated this huge common area and the lobby began to sparkle and shine with the joy of the season, a miraculous change took place in my heart. My attitude began to sparkle and shine as my bitterness and resentment were replaced by a deep sense of joy and peace. The tidings of comfort and joy we sing about filled my heart.
I asked God to forgive me for my attitude of selfishness and resentment and thanked him for providing a way to share special Christmas treasures that mean so much to me with the other residents in the building. As I continued to fine tune the Christmas décor throughout the week, a number of people commented on how pretty everything looked and what a great job had been done on this arrangement or that display.
So in addition to being able to use all of my Christmas decorations, God also allowed me to share my joy with others. The sense of joy and appreciation I see in their smiles and hear in their comments is something I never would have experienced in the big, old house where we used to live – and for this I am grateful.
Always be joyful. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
For years I struggled to understand these verses. How could God expect us to be thankful for everything (all circumstances) in our lives? Being thankful for the good things in my life made perfect sense – but being thankful for the bad things? No way!
I could never imagine saying, “Thank you, God that I am sick today” or “Thank you that my car broke down on the freeway.” On a more profound note, I have never been thankful that my oldest son was killed in a car accident when he was eighteen.
Then I took a closer look. God didn’t say to give thanks “for” all circumstances. He asked us to be thankful “in” all circumstances. I think this passage is encouraging us to find the joy of living in the midst of life’s pain and disappointments. God wants us to keep on trusting him and praying in spite of the difficulties and disillusionment we often face. We must thank him for taking us through the darkness while we are still going through it.
Look for the silver lining. Find and believe in the blessings that are hidden in even the most difficult circumstances. God didn’t promise that life would be easy. He never said we wouldn’t experience bad things, hard times, or devastating circumstances. But he did say he would be with us and never forsake us and for that we can be thankful.
If I can believe that God loves me enough to send his only son to pay the death penalty for my sin, surely I can have faith that he has my best interest in mind no matter what circumstances I am experiencing. If nothing else, I can be thankful that one day my trials will end and I will spend eternity with the God who loves me more than I know or understand.
Always be joyful. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18