In the first part of my day, if I need strength, I go to the music of Broadway that I love and sing out loud. When the boys were little and off to school I didn’t wait for the shower to belt a song, but I’d stand on the hardwood hallway floors, like a stage, and let it rip.
Often, when I’m driving, I’ll go to a Broadway ballad and sing it at the top of my lungs. The song I most often choose for this surge of strength is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” from the musical, “Evita.” I used this song as an audition piece back-in-the day when I was auditioning for shows in Minneapolis before marriage, babies and a move to the Icebox of the Nation.
In recent months I’ve found that going to Broadway in my car is again helpful. I’ve needed strength driving to and from my mom’s home, not my growing-up home at the family ski resort, but to her new apartment building. Her new digs allow for some basic assisted services due to her memory, health and for safety. The move, for me, was harder emotionally then I thought and of course it’s an adjustment for my mom, but she’s an entertainer and storyteller too, so its occupants provides her with a new audience.
The decision by the entire family is wise and practical, but that doesn’t mean it’s practically free of tears and frustrations for all of us. Call me “dramatic.” I don’t mind. On one such trek from her home to her new apartment I knew I needed Broadway, but because it was Christmastime, I didn’t feel like going to “Argentina,” so instead I went to Bethlehem. I chose the song, “In the First Light” by the a cappella group, GLAD. It sounds like a Broadway power ballad and especially at the end when I’m gripping the steering wheel and singing boldly and dramatically envisioning myself on a perfectly lit stage.
After repeatedly belting the song out for 20 miles the message begins to sink in.
In the first light of a new day
No one knew He had arrived
Things continued as they had been
While a new born softly cried.
But the heavens wrapped in wonder
Knew the meaning of His birth
In the weakness of a baby
They knew God had come to earth.
My mom’s new circumstances moved me physically and mentally. The message of the song began to hit my head and then my heart. God left his throne to come to us as a baby and grew into a man, Jesus. He came so he could redeem us, not because we deserved redemption as sinners, but because he loved us so fiercely. I think of the text my sister-in-law, saint Jonell, sent: “All that we’re doing isn’t for Mother Mary anymore. She has no recollection. We do this for each other, God and for her, with no points.” (Jonell’s up for sainthood in the family registry.)
This text put everything in context for me. It’s brilliant. It’s a mind shift. Instead of thinking, “I’m doing acts of kindness for Jesus,” I think, “I am kind BECAUSE of Jesus. He loves us and gives us grace so we in turn by his love and grace can give to others.” It’s not that I don’t want “points” at times because of all the WORK of it, but I know God has changed my heart toward my mom in the last month.
Prior to that I was getting so frustrated I would insensibly get angry with her as her dementia progressed. If I was angry with God, I would tell you. I think it’s OK to get angry with God. I mean, He’s God. He can take it. My mother needed my patience, kindness. What Corinthians defined as love. What I was giving her was frustration and correction. I needed a change of heart.
That is what God does for us. He changes our heart. It’s the enemy, the devil, who hands out despair and wants us to doubt the reason we celebrate Christmas. Jesus is the word who became flesh and lived among us, he has the final say and death and sickness have no permanent power over us if we have a relationship with him. The earth is not our final destination. It’s not our home. And it’s not God’s fault that people get sick and change. It’s the sickness of sin in this world. If “this” was all there was, then I’d be upping my medication.
Of course, there’s the sadness that my mom will not return to live in her home on the lake, and sadder still that she’s not the same mom I grew up with. She was a pioneer, a hardworking mom who worked alongside my dad tapping maple trees for our maple syrup business. She would let me cut out early to make lunch for the crew because I wasn’t an outside girl. My mom was always supportive of my dreams. I still have significant theater memories from my mom.
She gave me brown paper packages tied up with string after each performance when I was in “The Sound of Music.” She also made the ruby slippers for “The Wizard of Oz” and gave me little notes of encouragement stuffed in the toes after the show ran. Those memories increase and abate the sadness now.
I think there is nothing sadder than if at the end of one’s life all you have are the memories.
That is what God changed for us. When our loved ones pass through the stages of life to that end, it is not the FINAL end. God made a way for those we love not to be left to our past, but to be in our future.
God still is speaking with the same message the angels proclaimed, He is Lord, he is King and he is good because he is Savior. That is what Christmas is all about.
We may never understand “why,” but we can trust there is a WAY that God will redeem and work ALL things for the good even when all is not good. It’s a promise found in Romans 8:28. When I returned to my mom’s house to pack up some more kitchen items, I saw again the little flea market wooden plaque that sits by the sink. It’s painted with a little girl in a pink polka dot dress and she is standing by the words which read, “Life with God is good.” EVERY TIME I read it, I disagree. Life is messy and life is hard and isn’t always good, BUT GOD IS in the messy and hard. The more I look to God, the more I see the blessings in the mess, but it’s critical I look to him and not myself or others for redemption.
Earth is such a puff of time, a wisp, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” James 4:14 I spent days and hours with my mom in the beginning of the transition and we watched Hallmark Christmas movies, which I’ve always considered beyond hokey. At the end of one long day that went into the night, my mom said, “Thank you for spending all that time with me.” It made me think of the adage, “People will forget what you say and forget what you do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.” Of course, a few days later she didn’t remember me being there at all.
I have been the bossy, impatient and an exasperating daughter and unfortunately my four boys took note at Thanksgiving of my less than stellar behavior toward Grandma Mary. Thankfully, there’s forgiveness, given by her, my kids and our very gracious God. He never gives up on us, which doesn’t mean he is not heartbroken over our choices sometimes. God is ever ready to renew and restore the moment there’s a change of heart.
My life isn't one that looks like Jesus’. It's a life that looks like I need Jesus. Our legacy is not what we left behind, but how we treated the people we left behind. I treasure singing in the car on long drives, annual trips to the Minneapolis Children’s Theater and, of course, shopping. I even convinced Mom to go down to a little riverbed by the church I was baptized in. We’d sing a song and then sprinkle snow on top of our heads like angel dust. Magic. Last night the First Lutheran Church sent carolers to my mom’s apartment building. Mom said she joined them.
She followed them throughout the three housing units. When the group of carolers left and went home, she went back to her apartment.
New traditions, but the same songs. God is good in all seasons, even the hard ones.
Debbie Griffith is a Minnesota-based, faith-focused speaker, writer, radio personality and entertainer. She attended high school in Detroit Lakes.