Music: It Makes Us Feel Better

What’s your song? What tune do you go to when your heart is troubled, or when you need to dig deep to find some joy?

By last Wednesday I’d been sheltering in place for about 10 days, and up until then I had been pretty positive about it. I was looking on the bright side, finding humor on Facebook in an unprecedented situation, and I felt that as long as I took precautions I would likely be okay and not get the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, I had to go to the doctor for a follow up to discuss the results from a bunch of lab tests and a couple of scans I had taken four to six weeks ago. From November to early February, I’d been coughing non-stop. I had lost a lot of sleep, I was exhausted, and my lungs had been constricted in a scary way. It got to the point where, by January, I needed a couple of breathing treatments and had begun using a rescue inhaler regul in addition to some other medicines that treat asthma.

I didn’t grow up with asthma. This was all new to me, so I had lived through the winter of 2019-20 more frightened than I cared to admit to myself. Each night for weeks, I would remind myself that God tells us to not be afraid. So I would shove my fear from my mind before attempting to sleep, and focus on other things. Tired as I was, I was able to rest in the peace of knowing that Jesus was there to pray to and that He would shelter me with His love.

A few years back, this would not have been the scenario. For several years in my thirties, I suffered greatly from anxiety. I feared death, and I hated not being in control of things. My husband and I love to travel, but I battled with my anxiety constantly while flying in airplanes, being in teeny tiny hundred-year-old hotel rooms in the U.K., or finding myself in a car where we were driving on the opposite side of the road that we were used to in the United States. My anxiety consumed me and pretty much robbed my joy for way too long. It was like having an extra roommate we had to deal with, the kind who wouldn’t pay rent and demanded squatter’s rights until you figured out a way to kick him out.

Anxiety is real and often comes with a physical response. If you’ve ever experienced it, then you know what I mean. You feel as if you are in a tunnel, and your imagination runs wild with all the what-if scenarios…you think worst-case for every possible situation. There were times during those years when friends or my husband would have to help me breathe through a panic attack. There were nights when I would pace the living room floor, or need to open the front door to walk outside and look at the stars and breath the cold night air just to calm my fears.

I was able to do my job and do it well, and I acted like nothing was the matter. But night time was the worst, once the day’s activities were over and the house would get quiet. Lots of time then to start thinking and wondering. And worrying.

It was the worst of times. It is something I vow to never ever go back to, now that I feel I have conquered the anxiety.

Ironically, those are the years when I paid little attention to music, one of my first loves.

As a young girl, I found that I could escape in three things: books, Jesus, and music. As a musician, music became a part of my daily life. When I began teaching full-time after college and moved to a small town, the music faded away. Coincidentally, my anxiety was born. But I have to wonder if that is a coincidence after all.

Music is so powerful, and right now as we are all sheltering in place…as we sit in our homes or walk or ride bikes outdoors six feet apart from each other, I’ve noticed that music is making a come back.

It’s always been around…from a distance. For decades, we’ve turned the stations on our car radios as we drive and we may turn up the tunes in our homes as we clean house or get ready in the morning, but in this time of quarantine music has reminded us that it has the power to lift our worried frowns into smiles and ease the frustration of having nowhere to go.

The first time I noticed people were turning to music for comfort was when someone shared a Facebook post of neighbors in a city in Italy who were singing in unison from their windows one evening. They couldn’t leave their homes, but they found a way to be united and bring each other joy.

Once our town was told to shelter in place, I began seeing on Facebook hundreds of ways people were getting creative while they were home-bound. Lots of art and home projects, but the thing I’m seeing the most is how music is being shared. Regular citizens are recording themselves at home, celebrity musicians are taking requests through Instagram and Facebook, professional and collegiate musicians are finding ways to collaborate remotely and produce some really beautiful works that are uplifting and that help to ease our minds, and even get us up and dancing.

There’s something about music that hits so many of our emotions. It’s amazing to me how there are particular chords that can match my feelings of joy, sadness, confusion, and even anger. When we hear those chords put together in song, we may not even be having those certain feelings before we play the song, but as we listen it evokes those feelings from us as if we were listening to a story. Words are not even necessary. You just feel it.

So last Wednesday, when I came home from my doctor’s appointment I started having anxious thoughts because I had been out in public and at a medical facility, no less. My imagination was getting harder to reign in and, because of my former experience, I was able quickly recognize the signs that these were nothing but anxious thoughts trying to slither in. But I’ve been committed to not giving anxiety any power over me.

And one of my weapons to fight anxiety is music. The next night, I asked friends on Facebook to list the most beautiful song they could think of in that moment, and before going to sleep I listened to each one. Halfway through the first song, my mind was calmer. By the end of the last song, my breathing was steady and I felt contentment and strength.

So as I shut off the light, I left on some music—the six cello suites composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you haven’t heard them, they are six songs for an unaccompanied cello. Just the cello sings, a rhythmic and peaceful composition that helps me to tuck all my other thoughts away for the night.

I slept peacefully and woke up feeling rested.

That is just one example of the power of music and how it can suddenly take us on a journey that provides solace in our times of sadness and distress.

Find your song, friends. You will feel better for listening.

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Stay Connected, Safely

Down to one.

For the past fourteen years, I’ve shown up each day at work to greet around twenty to thirty children as they come inside our classroom. I love that first part of the day when the air is fresh and the day is full of promise and hope. I see the anticipation on their little faces as they cross the threshold. Seeing their friends is the highlight of each new day.

I also thrive from calling out “hello” and “good morning” to dozens of other teachers and school staff before the first bell rings. Over the years, no matter which school I’m at or which class I have, we’ve been through a lot, the students and I…the staff and I. Ups and downs. Celebrations and heartbreak. And whether the situation is good or bad, we rally around each other and cheer each other on.

While there have been difficult times that we’ve inevitably faced, never have we been forced to band together for a difficult time….apart. Until now.

Today was the seventh school day that I’ve been away from my students because of the shelter in place to try to stop COVID-19 from spreading. We’ve met in video conferencing a few times, but it’s not the same. We are lucky to have such technology, but the human interaction is simply irreplaceable. I don’t have children of my own to look after, but luckily I have my dog and my husband. But he’s busy with his own job, and my dog doesn’t talk. I’m not even sure she listens.

I also miss my colleagues. I’m grateful for our custodians and other staff members who are still reporting to work to keep the campus clean and operating as smoothly as possible. I appreciate our principal thinking of ways to keep some of our routines going through social media, and I love seeing the dedication and helpfulness of our office, district, and other staff. I’m amazed to see my fellow teachers grow with their technology skills in the span of a week, and I never thought I’d be so excited to “attend” a staff meeting as I am now….online…just. to. see. another. face.

Because my world is pretty quiet right now. And I’m sure yours is as well.

I’m down to one.

Just me.

So, resilient as ever, I’ve found some solutions to share with you if you’ve had enough of it, too. And, no, TV isn’t the answer. LOL

Here are 5 things I’ve done this week to combat shelter in place loneliness:

#1) Call someone instead of sending a text. Hearing their voice is such a treat.

#2) Invite someone for a walk, but walk several feet apart from each other.

#3) Schedule a video meeting with a co-worker, friend, or family member (Google Hangout, Google Meet, Zoom, Vimeo, etc.).

#4) Order some take out and go pick up it curbside–it’s a good excuse to see another human being AND it supports your local business. Make sure to wash your hands!

#5) Check out Facebook. There’s more traffic on there lately because it’s a nice way to check in with people in real time while we’re all scrambling with this new normal.

I think it’s so important to maintain human interaction as best we can. As an introvert, I thought this kind of situation would be easy for me. But I’m finding it’s not.

People still need people.

Stay well, yet stay connected…safely!

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Challenge Accepted

God gave us hearts, He gave us souls. He gave us personalities and lives, some pleasant and idyllic…but some complicated and tragic. And some of us teeter on the fence, perilously suspended somewhere between fulfillment and discontent. Which are you?

We can choose to conform to all of who others want us to be—demand us to be—or we can choose to be ourselves and not worry so much about who we think we ought to be.

Some of us are like square pegs, and we may never ever fit into the round hole.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

To flee from the formulas, the agendas, the criteria. To breathe and be with God and for God…and not let the people be who we want to please, but instead seek contentment with the Creator? To love like Him and show love like Him and be love like Him.

My heart wants to dance on the white sands of night beaches and be free of alarm clocks and lists. My soul wants to rip the anxious ties that bind it and explore creativity with reckless abandon.

And where do we square pegs fit in this world of ambition and competition and the aspiration of enough-ness…when all we want is to simply be?

Just be.

I know I have responsibilities and I will not desert them, but they do not need to overwhelm my every hour of my every day.  My lungs needs space, my heart needs to maintain its rhythm, and my mind needs rest.

And so I will focus on what needs to be done—but at my own pace, with my own skill, and rising to my own expectations…listening to the voice of reason and not losing sight of who I am.

Just. be. you.

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Why I Love the Sunrise

There are mornings a sunrise appears weak…

and there are mornings when it radiates brilliance so bold it stops you in your tracks.

It’s all about the conditions surrounding it.

Is the thick fog in the way?

Are strong clouds supporting it? Or are they blocking it with their bulk?

Or could it be that it’s just about to shove through the clouds above it with all its might?

The sun will still rise despite the obstacles in its path.

It may not shine so brightly sometimes, but it will still rise.

And when it does, I am reminded that we are like the sunrise, you and I.

We wake up each morning…and sometimes there is fog in our way.

Sometimes we have support, and we beam with gratitude.

Sometimes we have obstacles before us and they block our rays of light.

Sometimes we are on the verge of greatness, and the promise of victory reflects down upon us to urge us onward.

The breathtaking glow, the kaleidoscope of tangerine and lemon…the welcoming encourager—the catalyst of joy.

And there are days when there is not a single cloud in the bluest of blue skies to stand in its way of lifting toward the heavens.

No matter what the conditions are, the sun still rises and lights the world.

It climbs higher and higher with purpose and steadfastness.

And so we rise, too.

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Let Joy Win

I’m doing laundry today. You know…my favorite thing. Just kidding! While my hands are busy, my mind has been engaged in a gentle spin of a thousand thoughts.

Despite a list of challenges I’ve encountered in the last month or two, this morning I woke up feeling energized and excited for the week ahead. Such a gift— a new dawn, a new day…and I was feeling good. Then, as I went to make my coffee and start the first load of clothes, the memories of those recent hardships tried to cancel out all those positive thoughts.

Thankfully, some kind advice from a friend earlier this week came to mind—the reminder to “take it all in stride”. Being able to accept and tackle difficulties well is truly a life skill, and one I have been able to accomplish more and more. But it takes practice. Instead of dwelling on all the negatives, I instead chose to shake off all those things weighing on my mind and trust in whatever the outcomes may be.

And just like that, joy wins.

Throughout my life as far back I can remember I’ve had my fair share of trials, as well as accomplishments. We all have. We all face obstacles that can feel annoying or insurmountable. They can threaten our joy. But we all have a list of things we can be proud of (and if you think you don’t, I challenge you to make a list of wins in your life to remind you of your awesomeness). It’s important to recall the good stuff.

In this last half of my life (because a few weeks ago the doctor declared I was middle-aged), I am never more thankful than now for the fact that God can see through to our hearts. He knows when we feel overwhelm…He knows what we can handle, and He will give us what we need to persevere. He is available to us through prayer, and His word will equip us through even the hardest of times.

We have that access to Him all because of Jesus and what He sacrificed for us. We are loved—YOU are loved—THAT much. The creator of the universe is our constant companion. We are not alone in our trials, and the love of God–the joy He offers–will carry us through, if we just seek it out.

So hold your head high, my friend. Follow the loving path of the One who loved you first. Remember your strengths and focus on that. You don’t need to dwell on the past…and you don’t need to fear the future. It is waiting for you with joyful anticipation, because with God by your side you can handle anything.

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“…Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” -James 1:2-3

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16

 

Courageous Kindness

They’d forgotten me.

Tired and breathless, I began to cry. There I stood, in front of a roomful of strangers, sharing my tears with my old college sweatshirt and my trusty work badge still dangling from my neck. For several weeks, I’d been trying to maintain a facade of strength and smiles. Inside, however, the sheer exhaustion of not feeling healthy was slowly taking its toll.

After 3 months of coughing and finding no relief, I had taken myself to an urgent care on this particularly rough day, checked in, paid my copay, then resigned myself to sit and wait for however long it took until I was seen. They warned me it would be awhile. Hours, even.

Four hours and about fifty coughs later, I hobbled over to reception desk and asked if I was anywhere close to being called yet. They looked at me as if they’d never seen me before, and stared blankly at their list. Their expressions told me everything. Somehow I’d been overlooked.

I had spent the afternoon and part of the evening sitting in a corner that was not within their sight, listening to a Chip and Joanna marathon blaring over my head. I hadn left to go get food, even though I hadn’t eaten…I didn’t even use the restroom because I didn’t want to miss my turn. Now it was past dinner time, and past closing time.

They apologized profusely, and since it’s not in my nature to get angry in front of a roomful of strangers, I fumbled on my words as I produced my receipt of payment and quietly insisted I hadn’t left in all that time. I had gone weeks without proper sleep, had tried various medications, and continued to go to work through it all. I just couldn’t carry this any longer. It was affecting everything.

So when I realized I may have been sitting there waiting longer than I might have done, I wept.

My blurred vision from the tears led me back to my chair, and I kept my eyes on the floor trying really hard to not be noticed. Crying in front of others is not my favorite past time, but I’d been doing it a lot lately. This was not the me I was used to.

I honestly cannot fathom how people with chronic illness persevere. And knowing that they do, my heart holds a special place for them.

All of a sudden there was someone by my side. A beautiful blond-haired woman had abandoned her take-out burrito to come over to check on me. Apparently, everyone in the room overheard what happened as much as I had tried to blend in with the walls.

Sadly, I don’t even know her name, but she said she was in town from Kansas for work. She had arrived awhile after me, but when she discovered how long she would have to wait she had gone next door for a pedicure and some dinner. She sounded congested, like so many of us this season, but she chatted on as though she wasn’t bothered by it much. Impeccably dressed and well-spoken, she had been Face Timing with her children before their bedtime.

I explained in between coughs what had happened while trying to maintain my composure. By that day, I had reached a place where I no longer cared that I was in shoes with no socks (the absolute worst feeling!), with no makeup and wearing the vest that just that morning I’d spilled coffee down the front of. My hair hadn’t been washed in days because I ran out of energy to do even that, and I couldn’t even tell you if I’d remembered to brush my teeth. I remember wishing I had her joie de vivre.

She was just so kind.

That’s what struck me. Most people would watch and listen, but go back to their phones or continue watching the home makeover on TV. But the fact that she left her seat to come see if I would be okay—such a small gesture, just a couple of minutes– but in the moment when I felt so down…it meant so much.

In the middle of our conversation, they called my name and I bolted up so fast my back felt like it would snap. It was time to get a move on. We smiled at each other, wished each other good luck, and off I went ready to be helped. Later, I was the last patient let out into the cold, black night, so I never got to tell her thank you for coming over to comfort me with her benevolent compassion.

As I drove home later, I wondered at her kindness in a roomful of strangers. It is not that unusual, really, if you stop to look around. There is kindness being shown all over, even though the news would like us to believe the world is at its worst. Yes, horrible things truly are happening, but there are still plenty of good hearts out there who know how to extend a helping hand or a comforting word.

I try to be kind, but honestly….sometimes I’m just not that courageous about it. I thought on this for quite awhile, even into the next day. When it comes to strangers, I’m generally cautious. Especially when their emotions are trembling.  If I say something, will I say the wrong thing? Will I set them off into a tailspin? Or will I really be helpful?

This has been bothering me for a few years. For example, I’ve thought on it when I saw a young family struggling with their rambunctious children in a quiet restaurant. I wanted to reassure them that people understand that kids sometimes have meltdowns, or are loud. The mom had given up, clutching the stem of her still-full wine glass staring straight ahead like she wanted to be anywhere else, barely holding back tears of embarrassment. Meanwhile, the dad was about to snap with frustration that none of his efforts could stop his littlest one from happily bellowing gigantic grunting sounds so he could hear the delightful echoes from the concrete walls. They ended up getting the rest of their meal to go and left with heads down, mouths drawn tight.

I wondered after that, if I had just said something to encourage them would they have been able to relax and enjoy themselves? Or would they have told me to mind my own business?

And when a stranger is crying, like I had been. Have I ever reached out to try to offer an encouraging word?

Or have I been afraid?

Thank you, kind lady from Kansas. Thank you for making me think. For causing me to pause from now on when I see someone who is struggling and perhaps attempt to give them a kind word. Further, thank you for being an example of someone who takes the time to see what is happening around them….to really look in a person’s eyes and be attuned to what they may be feeling. For acknowledging that even reasonable, sound-minded people are not immune to unpleasant emotions. There is nothing wrong with that. We. are. human.

It’s kindness, yes. But it requires courage, too. Courageous kindness. 

Let’s have more of that.

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“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” -Colossians 3:12-14

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye, I dream of you now,

As I labor to remember the gift of your freedom.

My soul is a weary traveler—

It wishes to be restored by your subtle splendor once more.

 

Remembering your Scottish air, so crisp and vibrant,

Gives life to my timid heart.

Cleaner than white cotton sheets left to dry in the breeze,

Fresh and comforting—

A temporary refuge that feels like home.

 

Your fierce night winds intrigue me…

I recall them with joy,

For they made me feel alive

While nestled warm inside, like a bear cub in her den,

As the windows battled against your strength—

Where grace & mercy let the night pass in stormy calm.

 

The sea, it surrounds you

While the cobalt waters sing to my soul.

The merry salt in the air, the abrupt silence…

The solitude and beauty that only the bravest can endure.

 

You are what I dream of, my escape…

The place where everything else falls away.

And it is just you and I—

Land and sea, wind and sun,

Finding friends along the way

To help us remember to laugh and run and live without fear.

 

The destination which I’ll carry in my heart forever;

The memory of you bolsters my hope.

Because, for a little while,

I was as close to the top of the world that I’ve ever been.

And perhaps we’ll meet again,

my beloved Isle of Skye.

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