Another Random Sunday

December 2, 2012

The most wonderful thing about my family is…

Did you know that I’m singing in a choir? Yes, of course you did. This is my second semester as a member of the Marquette Choral Society. It is, quite honestly, the best decision I’ve made in my adult life. Not only am I geeky-in-love with music and singing, but I am geeky-in-love with the incredibleness of being in a choir.

This weekend is our Christmas Concert, Carols in the Cathedral, which is performed at Saint Peter’s Cathedral. You’ve never heard Christmas until you’ve heard it in a Cathedral. You want acoustics? Baby, you’ve got acoustics!

As we were rehearsing last night for the first time in the Cathedral, something happened. I was standing on the far right where an Alto 2 belongs, and I was feeling nervous about the distance between us and the Basses. I find that the Alto part always makes more sense when I hear the Bass part. And there was an entire half an Alto section (the Alto 1’s) separating us. I was a bit anxious. We arrived at the song with The Great Alto Conflict (as I’ve come to call the dissonance at the end of Alan Smith’s There Is No Rose) and I thought to myself—this is going to fall apart. Right here. On the risers. In the Cathedral. We’re not going to be able to hold these notes without the strength of the Bass part in our immediate hearing. So there we were, gently descending on those beautiful words—“transeamus,” meaning “let us go” or “let us follow”—and I heard the most remarkable thing.

While the 2’s held firmly to our middle C, the 1’s D struggled against us. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. It was like the rest of the choir existed, in that moment, only to give context to this beautiful juxtaposition of the C and the D. We found ourselves in relation to one another. And suddenly, it didn’t bother me that the Basses weren’t right behind me, because I realized that we can’t just understand ourselves in terms of one other part; we must understand ourselves in terms of each other part.

It is the same in a family. You don’t understand your character, your identity, your dreams, your talents, your weaknesses, your passions simply from one relationship. You begin to understand yourself most fully when you hear your part in the context of the other parts.

And you know what the greatest thing about this is? The greatest thing is realizing that all of us are learning and growing at the same time. While I’m depending on you to help me understand my own self better, you are depending on me to do the same! In that regard, we are a very fluid, very malleable unit.

That’s the most wonderful thing about my family: We’re still being made into the people we are, and we’re doing it in context of one another.

Stay Rooted!

Aunt Sarah

The best thing about Christmas is…

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The best thing about Christmas is…

 

The best thing about Christmas is the gifts. I’m not even joking.

I told you two weeks ago that the best gifts are those we give, and in a world where we are less and less connected with each other, where we trust so few of the people around us, where families and friendships are broken over silly trifles, perhaps the greatest gift you can give someone is yourself, your love.

It doesn’t always evidence as a big gesture—you don’t have to change the whole world all of the time (though I admire the spirit that wants to). Sometimes it breaks through a cloudy day with just a smile and an arm around another. Sometimes it is listening to someone dream. Sometimes it is a cup of coffee well past your bedtime that allows you to share your heart with another. Sometimes it is a game of Scrabble, decorating Christmas cookies together, watching the John Wayne marathon, tossing a football around in the yard, unwrapping four bags of Rolo’s together to make pretzel turtles, or shopping for yarn. The point isn’t necessarily what we do, but that whatever we do—we do it with others. When you give someone your time and attention, you give them yourself, the greatest gift you have.

Those really are the best things about Christmas—the memories we create by spending time together. This Christmas has been such a blessing for me. Though my heart has been heavy with those missing from our gathering (Steven’s family, Rodger, even Sanka), my heart has been birthed with new hope. We have each other. We belong together. God gave us the gift of this family—however difficult it may be to unwrap at times.

As always, kids…keep writing. Keep remembering. Keep living. And keep giving.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

One Winter, it snowed so hard that…

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Winter, it snowed so hard that…

In spite of the fact that I’ve lived in Upper Michigan, all of my life, I don’t have many good Winter stories. Okay, okay—there was the time I got the Ford Escort stuck on a drift of snow with all four tires off the ground; and there was the time the bank sign across from the high school read 60-degrees-below and they had to send us all home from school (except they couldn’t, because the busses wouldn’t start); and there was the first Winter I spent in Hancock, when the ceiling caved in; and the Winter a few years ago that your Grandma and I drove through the McDonald’s drive-through in a storm (the sides of the truck were pressed against the walls of the snowdrifts—we were jammed in like sardines!); and there was something about a washing machine with a full load of clothes (frozen) and your Uncle Donuts. If you really want a good one, you should ask your Grandma Heidi about the Winter her brother John was born (that makes him my uncle, your great-uncle). Now that is a “one Winter, it snowed so hard that” type of story.

But as fun as it is to tell those stories, my heart is more enthralled by Winter than entertained by Her. I always love to look at the trees in Winter. With the heavy snowfall and the forceful winds, I’m amazed that trees have the strength to just stand. That’s all—they just stand. It reminds me of what Paul wrote about the armor of God. He had just finished telling us that our struggle was not just in this world, in the day-to-day, but in the spiritual world as well, and he writes:

          Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

And after you have done everything, to stand. As a family, as individuals, we have seen many changes this year. We have faced struggles and sorrows that we could never have anticipated. Are there any magic words that will help ease our sadness? Are there any special prayers that will move God to take away our trials and make life easy? I doubt it. But He does give us the example of the trees. I hope that every time you see a tree, its branches weighed down with white, you will remember to stand—no matter what life brings your way, no matter how you feel, no matter how you want to give up. Just stand.          Somehow, sometime, in some way, Spring will find you.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

The best Christmas gifts are…

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The best Christmas gifts are…

There are several gifts (not only Christmas gifts, but birthday gifts, rainy day gifts, no-reason-at-all gifts) that were so special to me that I’ll never forget them: The decorating tips that Steven gave me; the night sky bandana from Maggie’s clan; the opal ring from Momma; the socks from Jesse (when I jokingly asked for thick socks and was surprised to find that it was exactly what he gave me); the journal that Jenn gave me for my birthday—she had remembered it from an outing some time past and that I had fiercely coveted it. Those (and others) are the gifts I love.

The best Christmas gifts (the best gifts, period) are those given from the heart. Why did I love those gifts? Because they showed that someone knew me well enough to know what would bring me delight. Great gifts are chosen with care, are a result of sacrifice, and reflect the giver.

I forget that. A lot. Just today, I was feeling discouraged because I don’t have cool gifts to share, and those I do share—I feel insecure about. I want to be the person that everyone gets excited about receiving gifts from! I want my friends and family to be trembling with anticipation as they wonder what I came up with this time. But I’m not. I’m just me. And maybe I’m weird, but I really enjoy giving the gifts that I give. They really are chosen with care. They really are a result of sacrifice (have you ever tried stitching a journal together?—trust me, it’s a sacrifice; so is dipping bags and bags and bags of pretzels without eating them all). They really are a reflection of me (well, maybe the pretzels aren’t a reflection of me, but…you get the idea).

Those are the best gifts—not the ones we receive, but the ones we give. My hope for you this Christmas is that you’ll know the Giver of all good things and the great Gift He gave to us, and that you’ll find ways to give to others—whether tokens or time or fellowship—that truly reflect the giver (that’s you!) and the Giver (that’s God!).

Happy Gifting (that’s Christmas!)!

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

What’s in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning…

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What’s in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning…

 

When we were young, our Christmas stockings were filled with treats. There was always an apple or orange stuffed down into the toe, and then layered on top were peanuts (in the shell) and candy canes and whatever candy was our favorite at the time. Somewhere, I still have that old red stocking from my childhood. I believe mine had one of those iron-on pictures of Santa giving gifts to some girls and boys.

But Christmas stockings didn’t become something to rave about until a little bit later in our lives. When I was a teenager, Mom decided to knit or crochet a Christmas stocking for everyone in the family. I can’t tell you what any of them look like anymore, except mine. For some reason, in my teenage years, I thought it would be wonderful to have a striped Christmas stocking—a nice, long one—with my favorite colors. Great idea, right?

Right, well, you see…no one told me that a nice forest green would look ridiculous with hunter orange and royal purple. Well—maybe that’s unfair of me. I think Mom did actually ask me if I was sure those were the colors I wanted. And I, in my great teenage wisdom, insisted that I was. Perhaps it’s been my pride that hasn’t allowed me to admit what a bad combination those colors were!

But, then, perhaps it is something else. The truth is that growing up with six siblings, I struggled for years with feeling like nothing was “mine.” Even the things I was interested in belonged to my siblings first (ie: music). As awkward as my stocking looked (looks), it is mine. It was made for me. It was given to me. It is about as bold and awkward and out of place as I am!

I think there’s a little bit of that in all of us. We look at our gifts, our strengths, our interests, and our struggles, and we wonder: How could all of these things work together? How can they meld together to make me something unique? How can they help me change the world? How, indeed! But they do.

I used to believe that God gave each of us one really big gift—like art, or teaching, or athletics, or making balloon animals. I think I was very, very mistaken when I believed that! Maybe you are better at one thing than many others, but please don’t believe that’s all you’re capable of. Please don’t believe that’s the most important thing in your life. It may just be that your passion for music will go hand-in-hand with your love for teaching. It may be that your gift for making balloon animals will help you in your missions work. It may be that your delight in reading will aid you in photography. You never know how those different interests and passions are going to complement one another.

That’s why I love my Christmas stocking. That’s why I can’t bring myself to tell you it was a bad idea to put those colors together—the same reasons I can’t tell you it was a bad idea for God to give me a passion for music and theology and writing. Though they have battled for my attention (and affection) for years, I am beginning to see more clearly that they are just different colors in the Christmas stocking that is my life. Together, they make me uniquely gifted to accomplish whatever it is God has for me.

So what’s in the Christmas stocking? A little bit of green…a little bit of orange…a little bit of purple…

…and sometimes peanuts.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

How I prepare for Thanksgiving is…

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How I prepare for Thanksgiving is…

Thanksgiving is a magical time. There’s snow in the air, pretzels dripping chocolate all over the kitchen table (yes, even with the waxed paper, somehow I always manage to make a mess), a popcorn chain that’s never quite long enough, a final rush to finish my Christmas gifts, and—best of all—suddenly the rest of the world catches up with my love of Christmas music (secretly, I’ve been listening to Bing Crosby croon ‘Silver Bells’ since, oh, June-ish).

Thanksgiving is magical: The meal, the traditions, and the never-heard-enough Cool Whip story. But long before the day arrives, before the tree is up, before the bird is stuffed, there is something I have been compelled to do—a project that has consumed me for the last decade of pre-Thanksgivings.

The Snowmen.

Did you know that your Grandma collects Snowmen? She didn’t either, until it was too late! I’m not sure what started it, but it is such a fun tradition for me. Every year, I spend the weeks working up to the Thanksgiving shopping all around town to find the cutest and most unique Snowmen. Those with character end up with the year written in permanent marker on the underside (or somewhere not too obvious—which, believe me, can be difficult to find sometimes!), wrapped in tissue paper, and tucked away in a bag or a box or a crate for gifting. Then, on Thanksgiving (with a few exceptions—like this year, we did the Snowmen early so it wouldn’t interfere with everyone coming home for the Big Day), I give them to Grandma.

And every year, she gasps—she oohs and aahs and giggles like a child. “Oh! He’s got a little birdy!” “Look at that pudgy nose!” “It’s a Snow Family!” “They’re all holding shovels!” I don’t know if she’s really that excited about Snowmen, but she sure puts on a good show. So every year, a handful of Snowmen are added to the collection, and on Thanksgiving, when the tree is up and the decorations come out, she’ll be surrounded by Snowmen that she can enjoy all throughout the Christmas season.

To me, that is the greatest way to prepare for Thanksgiving. It puts my heart and mind in a spirit of being Thankful and of Giving.

And…it really does make your Grandma smile. That alone makes it worthwhile.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

One Veteran I’ll never forget is…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Veteran I’ll never forget is…

 

His name was Mike.

He was born and baptized in a small village in Germany in 1838. At the age of 14, he and his family ventured across sea to a new home, a new world, a new life. They arrived in 1852 aboard Brig Hector and settled in Frankenmuth, a German community in lower Michigan. Though the family had not long called America “home,” Mike and his brothers proved their loyalty to her in their service during the Civil War. Mike’s great-grandson, Alois, wrote the following:

          When the first call for troops came in the fall of 1861, [Mike] and his brother John George joined the 3rd Michigan Cavalry. He served almost three years before he was captured by Southern forces while on scout duty. Johann Michael was tried and convicted of being a spy and sentenced to be shot. The day before his sentence was to be carried out, through some mistake of the Confederate officers, he was exchanged along with other Northern prisoners and spared.

Mike should have died. Mike was supposed to die. It boggles my mind to think about how he survived “by mistake.” Though Mike’s actions proved he was willing to give his life for his new country, he must have breathed a sigh of relief when he was released. And even after such an escapade, after being honorably discharged, Mike re-enlisted.

But really think about that—Mike should have died. The plan was for Mike to die. Before he met his wife, before he had any children (and boy, did he have a lot of children), before anyone except his parents and siblings would have missed him, Mike was supposed to die.

His name was Mike. And though there are many who’ve served in the course of our nation’s history that I’ll never forget, though each soldier has a story of his own that brings a chill to my spine, Mike is special. Mike was supposed to die, and he lived by accident. His name was Mike. His kids probably called him ‘dad.’ His wife probably called him ‘dear.’ My grandpa probably called him ‘grandpa.’

Johann Michael Schmitzer is our immigrant ancestor, my great-great Grandfather, your great-great-great Grandfather, the son of a tailor, a farmer by trade, a German by birth, a Lutheran by faith, a soldier who was sentenced to death, who, by some accident—by some miracle—was released.

If all had gone according to plan that day, there would have been no children (Ernst George Schmitzer); no grandchildren (Herman Carl Schmitzer); no great-grandchildren (Heidi Lynne Schmitzer); no me, no you. More than one man, more than one child or grandchild, more than one family: An entire clan would never have existed.

Do you feel a big sense of purpose in the world right now? I hope you do. I pray you do. So many men and women have given their lives to defend our liberty. For whatever reason, God saw fit to spare Mike that day—sparing you and me, as well.

This is your life, kids. What will you do with it?

All my love,

Aunt Sarah