Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Saxophone? I Can Barely Use a Telephone!

Well, it’s official. I am out of my mind.

I have taken up the saxophone.

My now-famous doctor of naturopathic medicine thought I should take up swimming to strengthen my lungs. “Frank Sinatra was a swimmer,” she said.

Sinatra swam underwater to develop his lung capacity — which enabled him to continue a musical phrase through a stanza without pausing for breath.

“I’ve always been more of an artist than an athlete,” I argued. “Couldn’t I try something else, like, oh, I don’t know, saxophone?”

Immediately, Dr. Lisa saw no reason I couldn’t do both. That girl thinks I have 26 hours in my day.

I procrastinated for weeks. For one thing, saxophones don’t come cheap. For another, I’d be lying if I said I’ve always wanted to play one.

Finally, I put out a tentative query on Facebook: “Anybody know where I can find a bargain on a used saxophone? Quality not important. It will be played by a 53-year old beginner with weak lungs.”

My odds were pretty slim, right? I felt safe.

An answer came shortly from the most unbelievable source. My own son-in-law had an alto sax collecting dust in his storage space. Who knew Kevin played in his school band for a year in Grade 5? His wife would be happy to let me use it.

What had I gotten myself into? What if I hated it? What if I couldn’t even get a squeak out of the silly thing? Did I really need one more thing to do?

Lucky for me, it was several weeks before we collected the instrument from their home in Calgary. Kevin gave me a quick lesson while my daughter chuckled and chortled. The next day we travelled home with the shiny Yamaha in its velvety-lined case. All I needed was a pair of shades and a hat and I was set.

I put out a new query on Facebook: “Anybody know a local, affordable saxophone instructor willing to take on a 53-year old beginner with weak lungs and a low frustration threshold?” I figured my odds were pretty much one in a million.

But within half an hour, my first lesson was booked with a guy who is proving himself the best music teacher ever. I’m not making this up. Ritchard Wiebe is a wonderful saxophone player, a patient teacher, and a generous encourager.

More importantly, he and his lovely bride Liz both laugh at my jokes.

(On a side note, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, every person I know born with the name “Wiebe” arrived on the planet with music seeping out of their pores. Have you noticed?)

So I’ve been blowing my horn half an hour a day for six weeks now, convinced God will eventually reward my longsuffering husband. As for the neighbours? It’s a good thing I’m starting in winter when all the windows stay closed.

Having taken piano lessons as a kid, I can tell you a saxophone is completely illogical. On a piano, the notes appear in nice, neat order. When you hit a key, it will always play the same note no matter what you do with your lips, your cheeks, your tongue, or your eyebrows. 

Not so with a sax. The notes don’t follow any predictable pattern. Alternative, convoluted methods to play many of them must be learned. And just because you’ve placed your fingers on the correct buttons doesn’t mean the note will come out right. 

So maybe I won’t be the next Lisa Simpson. But guess what? I’m having fun! I can play Jingle Bells, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, and Good King Wenceslas, all at the same volume: LOUD. Why no one has booked me for their Christmas party is mystifying.

This whole scenario of finding both a sax and a great teacher is something we in Christian circles like to call “a God thing.”

You can call it what you want. Just don’t accuse me of tooting my own horn. Technically, it still belongs to Kevin.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Lessons on a Foggy Day

Photo by Gayle Loewen

I confess I’m a wimp when it comes to winter driving, especially at night. Being married to a professional driver has me spoiled. Last weekend, my chauffeur down with a cold, I missed out on seeing our son’s girlfriend in one of her final university-level dance recitals because I was too chicken to make the trip alone. I felt disappointed in myself for being such an old granny, but it didn’t seem worth the risk.

The next day, however, I ventured out on my own so as not to miss our grandson’s third birthday party while Grandpa remained home in bed. It’s only half an hour down the highway, but the intense fog made me determined to return home before dark.

It turned into an insightful trip when I discovered how much fog is like life.
In fog and in life:

#1. You can see only far enough to take the next step.
The fog hung so thick, I was nearly on top of road signs before I saw them. Though I desperately wished to see further down the road, I could not. Still, enough pavement always remained visible to keep me moving forward. 

In life, I often think I’d love to know how things are going to turn out. What will happen next year? Where will I be in five? When will I die and how?
But I don’t need to know those things today. I know what I need to know for the next tentative step of my journey, and that’s okay.

Photo by Gayle Loewen
#2. Just because conditions aren’t ideal doesn’t mean beauty cannot live there.
So intent was I on the road ahead, so concerned about my decreased visibility, I almost missed it. The fog had turned the trees into a glorious hoarfrost wonderland. Beauty surrounded me if only I took the time to notice.

Life is never so dark or dreary that beauty is not nearby, waiting quietly. Grief and splendor can co-exist. Trouble and loveliness can walk hand-in-hand. Life will never be perfect, in fact it is pretty much always difficult. But it will never be without some measure of beauty, either. Take time to look for it.

#3. Sometimes getting ahead means slowing down.
Cars passed me in the fog, even though I drove the maximum speed limit. What was their big hurry? If surprised by a deer or a stopped vehicle ahead, they’d have no chance. I held steady to my slower pace and arrived at my destination just fine.

We pack so much pressure and urgency into our days. Our Creator instructed us to rest one day in every seven because he knows what our bodies, minds, and spirits need. But even those of us who claim to follow him often fill our Sabbath day with activities not necessarily restful. Then we wonder why we’re weary, why our wheels only spin.

In life, sometimes getting ahead means not only slowing down, but sitting still.

Are you in a foggy time of life right now? Wish you could see more? Can’t find the beauty in it? Slow down. Look around. Be still. You’ll get there.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Change a Life through Operation Christmas Child

In 2010, I felt so moved by the story of Lejla Allison, born and raised in war-ravaged Bosnia, that I wrote a play based on her journey.

As an 11-year old, Lejla witnessed horrific things no child should ever see. Her world was so unsafe, she feared to take a step out her door lest it be her last.

Lejla begged her parents not to make her go to school because she did not own a decent pair of shoes. Her dad tied her old, torn sneakers shut with wire, but the cold and wet squeezed through anyway.

“My toes hurt to the point that I don’t think I’ve experienced any worse pain,” Lejla says. “I went off to school very angry. I made up my mind that perhaps that day, I would not come back home. I was sick and tired of being hungry, scared, poor, hurt, of seeing other people getting hurt, other people die. I simply felt like life had no meaning anymore.”

When Lejla arrived at school after an hour of walking, she discovered the children gathered around. They told her shoeboxes were being handed out and if she wanted one, she should go over there. “What do I need a shoebox for?” she thought. “I have no shoes to put in one.” 

When a man brought her a box anyway, to her delight she found inside a brand new pair of white sneakers.
“Out of all the things in this world, I got shoes!” Lejla says. “I realized at that moment somebody, somewhere, cared enough. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know anything about me. That same instant, I knew it was someone who knew my mind, someone who knew exactly what I wanted who sent me those shoes. And who else could know but the Lord himself?”

My play, Somebody Else’s Shoebox, introduces the audience to the fictional person who packed Lejla’s box—a misguided, scatter-brained but lovable woman who thought you were actually supposed to fill your shoebox with shoes. She would never know her gift went to exactly the right person.

Other stories like Lejla’s appear on the Samaritan’s Purse website (see address below).

Izabella McMillion, who grew up in Romania, received a shoebox as a child. Now she helps distribute shoeboxes there.

“When we faced children who were so expectant,” Izabella says, “I could see myself in those eyes and I know they were thinking the same thing I was thinking, that ‘I am receiving a gift and I haven’t done anything for it.’ One box changed my life and allowed me to understand God better and I’m able to turn around and multiply the blessing by encouraging so many others to pack shoe boxes.”

When you anticipate your own children or grandchildren tearing into their gifts this year, consider that for most of the kids who receive a shoebox, it will be the only gift they ever receive in their life. Not this Christmas. Not this year. Their entire life.

Is it any wonder it’s such a big deal? Don’t let this opportunity to make a difference pass you by.

Local folks: pick up your shoebox at Portage Alliance Church, Pet Valu, Portage Supermarket, Sobeys, Co-op, Heritage Books, Only Deals, or Dollarama. Follow the instructions and return it to Portage Alliance Church the week of November 19-25. You can find lots of helpful ideas for what to pack in the brochure and on their website:
As for my little play, as far as I know it has yet to hit the stage. But the folks at Samaritan’s Purse liked the script and happily received it. Maybe one day it, too, will find its way into the right hands.

And maybe in our shoebox packing, both givers and receivers will begin to understand anew what the first Christmas was all about: “I am receiving a gift and I haven’t done anything for it!”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

No Humbug Here

“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer? If I would work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Sound familiar?

It should. Even if you’ve never read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I bet you’ve heard Ebeneezer Scrooge’s quotes or seen at least one of the countless stage or movie versions. Can you name your favorite? I know folks who claim it just ain’t Christmas until they’ve watched Alastair Sim’s 1951portrayal of Scrooge. Others prefer Albert Finney’s from 1970. Bugs Bunny got into the act by casting Yosemite Sam in the famous role, followed by Mickey Mouse with Scrooge McDuck (who else?) in 1983, and The Muppets with Michael Caine in 1992. Henry Winkler’s version came out in 1979 and a female version, called Ebbie, with Susan Lucci, in 1995. Sesame Street’s version features Oscar the Grouch as Scrooge. Even Barbie has her own version, although I admit it is not on my “must see” list.

I discovered my current favorite, the 2004 musical with Kelsey Grammar, last year when I borrowed it on DVD from our local library.

The above list represents only a drop in the bucket, but you may find yourself with a new favorite version after you attend The Prairie Players production directed by Christopher Kitchen. November 14 and 15 feature the play only (in advance or at the door). November 16 and 17 will be dinner theatre (advance tickets only).

It features Terry Tully as Scrooge, Kevin Hamm as Bob Cratchitt, and an additional 31local men, women, and children rounding out the cast. One of the largest cast lists in Prairie Players history, this production includes live music, dancing, and some interesting steam-punk touches to the set and props. Since I’ll be an usher for this production (which apparently doesn’t require practise), I sat in on a rehearsal as spectator. The costumes alone are worth the price of admission!

Here’s a bit of trivia that was new to me. When Scrooge mocks his clerk, Cratchitt, he says,
“There’s another fellow. My clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. I’ll retire to Bedlam.” 

Bedlam was the famous London hospital for the insane. Scrooge, unable to reconcile the concept of a joyful heart belonging to someone in Cratchitt’s financially insecure position, finds the idea ludicrous. Hence, they may as well admit him to Bedlam. Now that you know, the line will make more sense!

Like any great story, A Christmas Carol never grows old because of its memorable characters, its breadth of human emotion, and most of all, its redemptive message. Every time I see it, I’m moved by something I never caught before. This time, it was Jacob Marley’s ghost desperately expounding the importance of compassion over money. Scrooge doesn’t get it, since Marley proved himself an excellent business man. To which Marley replies, “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

A glorious way of saying, “Love Thy Neighbour.” 

Let the power and poetry of this beloved story kick off your Christmas season by getting your tickets from the William Glesby Centre. 

You may find yourself a couple of hours richer after all.
The cast of The Prairie Players' production of A Christmas Carol