My sisters are…

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My sisters are…

So you want to know about my sisters, eh?

I have two sisters by birth—Kristin and Margaret. Thirty years I have known them now, and I still struggle to write about them. The truth is it’s hard to find words to tell you about my sisters and how much I love them.  They are both immensely unique, with strengths and skills and passions that are unequaled in other women. And they both, being vastly different from each other, bring out a particular aspect of my character that the other can’t.

Kristin once made me flip my hair over my face (it was long!) and put sunglasses on. She did the same, and we took a photo. It was a random thing, but it meant so much to me. It said to me that my eldest sister wasn’t so old that she couldn’t have fun with her baby sister. And that is what I most feel about Kristin—we can be silly together and have a good belly-laugh about life’s weirdnesses (like Furrrrnahndo!). Sometimes I think Kristin hides her depth with superficial and silly things, but don’t let it fool you—Kristin has a lot to say. We just have to get her to say it.

Margaret is closer to me in age. We shared a bedroom for several years when we were young. Whenever I had a friend spend the night, Maggie would rearrange our bedroom into an Obstacle Course. We didn’t have a lot to entertain us back then, but Maggie always made it different than the last time. That is Maggie—always doing whatever she can to help, always blessing someone, always constant by your side. She goes without thanks most of the time, I think, but that makes her all the more incredible—not many people would be so generous and giving with such little commendation.

But there are more sisters these days. I now have my two birth sisters, as well as three sisters by marriage.

Erin (aka: Huggamackadillapee) is Joel’s wife of three years. She is artistic and always looking for new methods of creating. I enjoy bouncing ideas around with her and getting her feedback on the crafts I’m doing. She is a new (one year) mom, a college graduate, a volleyball guru, and a great wife for my brother. P.S. Erin: I’m trying the childrens’ book board at your suggestion! I think it might just work!

Sara (no H) is Jesse’s wife of almost-three years. When I think of Sara, I think of a real classy gal. She is smart, funny, and incredibly strong. She has been facing some huge battles in the years I’ve known her, and yet—she always has a smile on her face. She is ambitious, and I know she’ll succeed at whatever she pursues in life. But…she spells her name wrong (don’t tell her I said so; she’s a little bit sensitive about it. Hey—new game; let’s all send Sara an H for Christmas this year!).

Erin (the second, but elder, Erin) is Steven’s wife of almost a year. I confess that I don’t know Erin as well as I’d like, but what I know of her, I really love. I was blessed to be a bit of a go-between for her prior to the wedding last year. It allowed me to see what a classy, stylish, and easy-going woman she is. She is also incredibly generous and easy to talk with. Could a better thing have happened to my brother? To our family? I don’t think so.

A prompt about my sisters wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one more sister—my Vault Sister, Jennifer. I have known Jenn for more than a decade now. We met at college and have been close ever since. She knows all of those weird, quirky things about me that I try to hide from the rest of the world (like the box of letters, the dreams, the words, the songs). She has been so good to me and for me, encouraging me and spurring me on toward my goals, and always believing in me—even (or especially) when I don’t believe in myself.

Having women in the family is such a great gift. Each sister is her own person, with strengths and personalities that not only define her, but also help to shape those around her. They are the glue that holds a family together, and in our case—we have a lot of glue. I pray that each one of my sisters (birth, marriage, and vault) will know just how valuable and irreplaceable she is to me and to our family, and that she will see the fruit of her hard work more and more as she grows.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

The person in my family I look most like is…

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The person in my family I look most like is…

No one. Honestly.

Okay, so there have been two moments in my life when I thought I glimpsed myself in another member of my family. But I’m not sure anymore.

When my Grandpa died in 1993, we drove to lower Michigan, and at some point we found ourselves in Grandma’s apartment with all the family. It was the first time I remember meeting my Aunt Marleine. I looked at her face, and I had two immediate thoughts. First was, “Oh! She’s the Aunt who made my baby blanket!” Second was, “Wow! Finally someone in the family that I sort of look like!” Of course, my Aunt Mar is a beautiful woman, and I don’t look that much like her, but I was very pleased to have a semblance of someone so good-looking!

The second time I thought I looked like someone, I actually thought I looked like everyone. I know you’re rolling your eyes at me—that’s okay! It was maybe a year ago; maybe two. I was looking in the mirror. I had just put my hair back in barrettes, which I hadn’t done in years, but I wanted to try it again because my sister was wearing her hair in barrettes again and it looked great! So I put them in my hair, and smiled at my reflection, and thought, “Wow. When you smile, you have a similar shape around your eyes as Maggie!” And then I thought, “Woah, but you really look like Jer.” And then, “Wowsers, you can really see Mom in me.” And then, “Oh man, I look just like Dad.”

Honestly, though, I never thought I looked like anyone in our family very much. It’s hard when you have a family of look-alikes. Kristin-Mikayla-Hannah…who can tell the difference? Aunt Kristi-Maggie-Amber? Dad-Steve-Joel-Jesse? And later in his years, Dad-Jer? Mom-Donna-Grandma Schmitzer? Mostly, it has just never occurred to me that I might look like someone.

More important (I think) than our physical appearances, I think I “look like” my family in other ways. I will always look like Mom, because I will always wear her hand-knit socks. I will always look like Kristin when I say, “Sssank you for calling zee Hampton inn and sveets! Theeees eees Ferrrrrrrnahndo!” I will always look like Maggie when I make a homemade Christmas gift. I will always look like Jeremiah when I quote Gibbs’ Rules. I will always look like Steven when I decorate a cake with the tips he gave me. I will always look like Jesse when I get a fish hook stuck in my sleeve. And I will always look like Joel when I listen to Bride (I know! Who knew I listened to Bride in secret? Don’t tell anyone.).

We are made up of characters. People shape us, change us, encourage us to become more than we think we are. We are, in truth, like an orchestra of instruments—each entirely unique in its sound and appearance and part, each having a role that no other instrument can fill. We play individual pieces in our lives, following the music as best we can, learning to understand the notes on the staff, finding our fingering, steadying our bow hand. But it’s when we play together that each instruments’ strength is brought to light. Each instrument finds what it is capable of. And each instrument sounds the fullest when complemented by the harmonies and challenges of the orchestra. Whether similar or different from each other, that’s what we are like. That’s what family does.

Even if we don’t look alike.


All my love,

Aunt Sarah

The best advice I ever received was…

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The best advice I ever received was…

The best advice I ever received? Okay. It goes along with what Mikayla has been sharing on facebook this last week about her testimony, and how our story of faith isn’t just about one moment, but about all the moments that bring you closer to Christ, and about all the choices you make that testify to the Resurrection and the Life.

Many years ago, in a church that was falling apart (literally and spiritually), I told a story to a friend.

I had been struggling with the idea of “God’s will.” What did He want me to pursue? What did He want me to accomplish? What did He have for me? What was I supposed to “do with my life”? These are heavy questions for a teenager—especially when her heart is in something like music, and she doesn’t have the years of lessons that other music students have had. I had been praying for weeks (which felt like an eternity at the time, as I was trying to answer questions at school about where I was going with my life). One night, in a fit of frustration, I did something crazy. I was on the floor, literally on my knees, crying and praying, and I told God that if He wanted me to pursue music, He had to show me—clearly. With blurry eyes squinted shut, I flung my Bible open and let my finger fall on the page. It landed on a Psalm 30:10-12. I have read the verses a million times since then:

                   Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.

                   You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.  Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

There is no way you could have convinced me that this was not an answer from God. It spoke volumes to me—not just about music, but…firstly about music. But it birthed a million new questions: did the pursuit of music mean studying it at college? Did I really believe that God gave this verse to me, or was it a fluke occurrence? And what in the world was sackcloth?

When I finished my story, Mark Bradshaw looked me square in the eye and said something I could not have anticipated. He said, “You’re going to want to write this story down and commit those verses to memory.”

I’ve received a lot of really great advice in my thirty years, but none has shaped my actions quite like Mark’s words did in that moment. Over the next year, I re-read the Old Testament, and was amazed to read about all the instances where God would speak or act, and His people would build an altar. It served to honor God, to offer Him sacrifices of thanksgiving. But it also served as a remembrance to His people. They didn’t name places things like “Jehovah Jireh” to remind God what a great provider He was; they named it so they would remember that He had provided for them in their need (and always would). That is essentially what Mark had said to me—build an altar; praise God; remember what He’s done; and trust what He’s doing.


All my love,

Aunt Sarah


My favorite family vacation was…

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My favorite family vacation was…

We used to make the trip in the summertime. The drive seemed so long! We would stop along the way and eat sandwiches (cheese and bologna). If we were lucky, we would cross the Mighty Mack after dark when it was alive with the lights that rose to each side of the towers. Or, if we were really lucky, we would stop behind Glen’s Market, bare our feet, roll up our pant legs, wade into Lake Michigan, and fill our tube socks with Petoskey Stones.

But the luckiest part of the trip was when we were finally there: Grandma’s house. I loved arriving late, when Grandma’s hair was already in curlers for the night and the house was dark except for the porch light that she left on for us and the aquarium inside that was home to her black mollies.

Grandma’s house was my favorite place to visit as a child. I loved everything about her home—the shelves, lined with AVON bottles; the colored paring knives; the bushes outside with those big white berry dingles on its branches; the flagpole in the front yard; the crossword puzzle books in the basket in the living room; the big room upstairs where Grandma told me that if I keep one foot under the blanket, and one foot out, I wouldn’t get too hot or  too cold; the pink bubble bath; the cuckoo clock (did I imagine that? I can’t remember now if there was one or not); the tea cups; the plants overtaking the front porch; the dreamsicles in the freezer; the swingset out back; the front steps; the short walk to Dewey’s, where we would buy the world’s largest pixie sticks.

And, of course, the very first love of my life—Grandma Schmitzer’s piano. It just sat there, in the back of her house. I always wondered what it was doing there. Grandma didn’t play, as far as I know (though I think my Uncle David told me that Grandpa taught Grandma some piano before they were married). So why did she keep it? After her husband passed away, after her children had grown and left home, there it sat—silent, except when the grandkids visited, I’m sure. How many times did I play chopstick on that old instrument? How very many songs took root in my heart in that back porch!

Grandma’s home was our home in so many ways. With all of the uncertainty of our young lives and whether we would ever “settle” somewhere, I think there was a comfort in knowing that we were always welcome at Grandma’s house. She always had a place for us at her table. She always had beds (even if we sometimes had to share). She always waited up for us, and left the light on. She was my home for many years—the place where I was free to chase that dream of making music, before I ever realized I wanted it. We didn’t take vacations; but every summer, it seems, we found a way to visit Grandma—to go home.

I hope your memories of visiting your grandparents are as full of love and life as mine are!

All my love,

Aunt Sarah


What I love about America is…

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What I love about America is…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

There it was. Did you catch it? It’s such an easy word to skip over. It flows off your tongue without much thought.


What does it mean to pursue happiness? To pursue, is to seek after or chase something, to strive for it. There is no doubt that America is overflowing with persons striving for happiness. And I love that about America. I love that we are a people that wants to be happy; I love that we are a people that wants to be happy so much that we’ll strive after it. But don’t let it rule your life.

First, the idea of happiness is very abstract. Rich Mullins said it best, I think—“the more we pursue what we think we want, the more it eludes us. Or, we get what we think we want, and we find out we didn’t really want it in the first place.”

Second, while it’s important to chase after the things that burn inside of your heart, it is also important to live with the awareness that life is not all about you. Sometimes you have to do things that are difficult. Sometimes you need to make choices that seem to turn you farther away from that happiness you’re chasing. Sometimes you have to decide whether that promotion at work is as important as a person in your life. Sometimes you need to recognize that wanting something does not mean you should have it.

So yes! Pursuit your desires! Strive for happiness! Chase the things that you are interested in! But remember that happiness is not promised to any of us—and even if it were, you might find that happiness is fleeting and decide to pursue joy instead.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

The sounds and smells of Summer are…

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The sounds and smells of Summer are…


The sounds and smells of Summer are…

  • the sparrows waking me early, even before my alarm, with their morning song;
  • the crisp, clean, smell of a perfect green bean—washed, cut, and ready to can;
  • the sound of your Grandma yelling at me when she realizes I’ve been into her green beans;
  • the sweet air at Ostanek’s when we go to pick strawberries (I don’t know, but having that many strawberries really does something to the air—it is lighter, it is sweeter);
  • the deep, booming echo of the 4th’s fireworks off of the old ore dock;
  • peaches. Fresh peaches. Peaches by the peck.
  • the crackle of a June Lyrid burning up as it falls from the night sky;
  • lilacs! Lilacs! Everywhere, lilacs!
  • the soft bubbling from the aquarium where Grandma Schmitzer kept her black mollies;
  • the acoustic folk music of the Scandinavian Festival at the island;

I guess I don’t have much to say! Summer has never been my favorite season (in fact, it wouldn’t even come in 4th if I had to rank the seasons by how well I like them—I’d rank Autumn twice, I think, and leave Summer out altogether!). But I suppose even the things we aren’t fond of (i.e.: Summer) can bring us good, fond memories. So enjoy it while you can! All too soon it will be Autumn, and you’ll have to rake leaves.


All my love,

Aunt Sarah

P.S. I was joking about Grandma being angry at me for snitching from her garden.

My Dad is the greatest because…

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad is the greatest because…

This is probably the hardest prompt I will respond to this year. I love my Dad. I really, really do. I have always struggled to make sense of my relationship with him and to make sense of his absence from my life. It has been (and—I’m sure—will continue to be) a most arduous journey.

In fact, for many years, I looked for other father figures to fill the void in my life. And what a blessing—that certain men made themselves available and fathered me as if I belonged to them! In this regard, I see God’s love most clearly—that someone could love a child who is not his natural daughter as if she were his very flesh and blood. That is what God does for us. Except there’s a greater mystery with God: somehow, He actually makes us His children. He makes us His heirs, His sons and daughters. It’s hard to understand, I think, but it’s really amazing. It’s a love greater than anything we know here on earth. And He doesn’t do it because we are something special; He does it because it is in His character to love us and to place value in us. Woah, eh? So having men from church, friends’ fathers, uncles, pastors, teachers who love me as if I belong to them really is a blessing to me. It has taught me that God loves me enough not only to make me His daughter, but to provide for me the example and the love that my own father has struggled to provide.

But I wouldn’t leave you thinking that my Dad means nothing to me. The truth is that the reason I have struggled so much with my father is because he means everything to me. He is the only Dad that is truly mine, and nothing—not anger, not resentment, not fighting, not pain, not fear—can change that. I am his daughter. He is my Dad. No other man in the whole course of history can take his place. With all of his flaws (with all of my flaws!), with all of his stubbornness (with all of my stubbornness!), with all of his quirks (with all of my quirks!), with all of his bad habits (with all of my bad habits!)…he belongs to me. That truly makes him the greatest.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah