Rooted Faith

I felt suffocated by all of it. The silence of the library amidst the roar of my mind made me wild. I suppressed my tears as long as the light exposed my twisted face and tormented soul. Where could I hide? Darkness enveloped me like a shroud as I burst through the heavy wood doors and plunged into the shadows on Hillsdale’s college quad. Only the stone cold statues of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan witnessed my flight. I ran until the grass beneath my feet hardened to brick; and the brick became pavement; and the pavement expanded into a courtyard. At the end of the courtyard rose a wall; and over the wall towered a tree; but when I came to the edge of the earth, I climbed up into heaven. Nothing could contain me. No one could console me but God. I sought Him.

A broad tree, rooted in the corner of the courtyard, bent over the wall that halted my flight. I lunged upon the wall balancing precariously on the ledge. Its upturned arm invited me up. I leapt in faith and felt my hands close over the limb which snatched me up. Like a child first learning to walk, I crawled along until I felt the firm, smooth-wasted trunk. I felt a heartbeat and only then did I stop moving forward, for his body and breath comforted me. From my planted feet on either trunk, I stared longingly for some sign of hope. My eyes roamed first over the quaint town of Hillsdale Michigan, and then beyond the horizon, and at last up to the stars for some sign of God. Lord knows how long I stood refusing to succumb to fatigue until my body collapsed defeated both physically and emotionally. Emotions swelled from my chest increasing in strength like the Great Lakes during a Michigan spring thaw. Tears flowed freely for the first time. In the rising storm of my emotions, a wind blew through the courtyard. Autumn leaves scurried over the cold ground whispering the tragedy in a hush-swish-push sound. The wind vowed to conceal the soft sobs and rock the cradle in which I rested so high up. Like the up and down motion of the waves, my cheek nudged the trees body until it nestled onto smooth bark. My mind still blurred with worry.

I knew it was only a matter of time. Doctors competed with death to preserve her life. My sister. Her baby. My newborn niece. Both. Rocked wildly by death himself. Panic inhibited me from reasoning. Hope had brought me to Hillsdale, but suddenly, this town, this school, this life felt too big to handle as I saw in my mind the lifeless body of my sister on the operating table.

Exhaustion incapacitated me. The wind lifted my pony tail and untied my hair ribbon. My strawberry-red curls slipped loose. Down a long curl, the bow slid to the end of a strand of hair but refused to let go. It clung to my hair in the same way that my fingers grasped at the tree for stability. I pressed my hands together pleading for some good news, praying to God for a miracle, weeping for consolation.

The tree moaned as the wind bent its arms to the ground, but in the side to side motion, the tree cradled me. Branches blew above me, and through the autumn leaves the stars seemed to brim with tears. Falling stars streaked across the sky like the rivulets that rolled from my face, staining the branch with salty, glittering, drops, that dripped to the ground. Time let me grieve, but while time passed, uncertainty increased. Everything seemed lifeless like the dull steps of school piers passing beneath the wall eager for a few hours of shuteye before dawn. Hopeful signs of morning light danced beneath the horizon, but I only saw cruel flames of fire licking viciously at the sky. It looked no different than the fluorescent glow above the surgeon’s table which revealed the bloody body of my sister.

When I woke, I could not move. I flexed my white finger tips around the trees trunk. Sunlight shot beyond the horizon and touched my face and arms and chest. I recoiled in the brilliance. Pulling out my phone from my pocket, I looked for hope. At that moment the sun jumped above the horizon and blinded me with its radiance. “Grace,” I mouthed. Pure grace bathed my body. Alive. My sister, Grace, and her child. Contrary to the night before, I did not flee the light this time. I embraced it carrying the joy of Grace in my heart.

All night a tree cradled a child. Its deep roots supported her when the hurricane of life uprooted her from trusting in providence. These roots plunged deep beneath the cold courtyard pulling up life giving sustenance from deep beneath the ground.

Disentangling my legs, I let them hang over the ground. I smiled at the sun. I dared to hope. I slipped from the limb. Exiting the courtyard, my feet retraced my steps from last night this time at peace. Before leaving the courtyard, I stopped and looked over my shoulder at the might of the tree. I knew it was not the silence of the night that made me peaceful but the reminder and reassurance of God’s promises. I pondered how much that mighty giant seemed to symbolize the character of God. The tree listened to my sorrows and directed my dull gaze to promises written in the stars as old as history and older still. I trembled not from my chilled body but from the shallowness of my roots—my lack of faith. God knew I was just a little girl in need of assurance, so through the storm and through the night, He rooted me to His promises—promises to comfort me and strengthen me every time I leap into His arms and gaze upon His image where the radiance of His glory caresses my tear streaked face.

 

Music Elevates to New Heights

Because music sets the mood for life, I do not nor could I ever have a favorite song, artist, or style of music. To choose would limit one to a stoic way of life. Music is an art form with many colors. As everyone knows the world is not black and white. Some music styles that please me include Latin American hip hop, dramatic movie themes like Unbroken, country with American Young, Broadway musical theater, Baroque Classical, Celtic, jazz, and gospel worship. Styles like Latin American hip hop test my language abilities; movie themes such as those from “Unbroken” persuade me of the power of perseverance; jazz takes me back in time to the brilliant and energetic world of my grandparents. Music speaks many languages. It explains a culture such as the Spanish, it intensifies the actions of unbreakable men such as Louis Zamperini, and it can retell the highlights of the 1940s era. Music matters for more than this.

Music causes extraordinary health benefits, increases intelligence, and deepens overall enjoyment of life. In numerous cases science shows how music causes physical healing from speech loss to psychological and emotional stability.  Not only does it heal but it fosters higher focus and greater intelligence. Music heals the patient. Lullabies put to sleep newborns. Classical music increases focus. Gospel worship inspires man’s love for God, for like the steady movement of a violin bow lifting off the strings, so our hearts and souls lift up to God. Good music will be beautiful music by its very nature.

Good music has rhythm. It also has harmony, complexity, dynamics, emotional appeal, and story-like flow. Of course good music is not limited to the above, but one of the most important attributes of good music is the story. Neither the individual nor the experts determine good music. No, good music unites. From the orphaned child on the street to the New York Philharmonic first chair violinist both hear the same story and both bring their life experience which influences the way the music sounds. The goodness of the music does not change. That is innate but the experience does. Good music has a beginning, middle, and an end. It leaves the individual with something to hold onto that increases the meaning of existence. In this way, good music changes lives.

It changed mine. My first experience with Broadway musical theater in New York City turned me upside down in my front row seat. I will never forget the first scene from Wicked. Slowly and steadily the actors approached the edge of the stage creeping closer and closer to where I sat until I could see the white of their eyes. I stopped hearing and started seeing a silent fervor imparted by their eyes. I will never forget many things that music pressed harder than diamond into my mind. I will never forget peeking down into the orchestra pit every few minutes to make sure the music was not coming straight from heaven. I will never forget hearing “my song” as Elphaba lifted off the floor defying the weight of gravity. I will never forget in that moment my immediate resolve to defy gravity like never before. I would champion the way gravity kept pulling me down every time I vault. Wicked does not just tell the story about the Wicked Witch of the West. It tells me my story. Music elevates me to new heights literally. In that moment, music caused the pursuit of something higher than myself. When I vault tipping instantly upside down, I pray that the pounding rhythm of my feet and the lunging whoosh of my body and the uncoiling pop of my pole is humming for the world to hear the musical notes of my song.

I vault for more than myself. I vault so others might have the chance to hear their story. First we hear then we see. Did not Jesus say the same thing? Like faith, music is a way of life. It elevates us to “do life” for more than ourselves.

P.S Yes, this blog was a Hillsdale homework assignment.

P.S.S Yes this paper is about music, and yes I ended with pole vaulting.

Gratitude: Thanks to Peter Draugalis for capturing me in action.

 

Mis Hermanas

Mis hermanas,

Hacía nueve meses que les vi. Es un tiempo tan largo para mí. Recuerdo muchas cosas que llegan vivo en mis pensamientos. Yo hice una prometa que ahora no he completado y por eso digo lo siento. Es por esa razón que tengo que escribirles, mis hermanas. Pedí por tu dirección pero no la recibí. Quise mandar las muchas cartas que he escrito y otras cosas que he querido mostrarles pero que no  puedo. No quise causar el dolor de venir y salir con mis memorias y fotos pero temo que este es exactamente lo que pasó. Mis memorias y las fotos que tomamos en marzo no son míos. Son nuestros. Incluyen nosotros juntos y por este razón es necesario que las comparta con ustedes. ¿Pero cómo? Les extraño con más que puedo decir y la única manera en que puedo expresar mi amor por udstedes es aquí en esta pantalla. Ojalá que pueda decir todo cara a cara.

Es posible que escriba las palabras que no les leerán nunca. Es más probable que escribo las palabras que no puedan entender porque no soy fluente en tu idioma y he pasado menos que quince días con personas que hablan español en sus países, pero esribo con desperación y esperanza que algún día, Dios me dirigirá a ustedes. Estaba solo por cinco días que pudiera pasar los mejores momentos de mi vida. Hay estaba tanto gozo. Compartimos nuestros historias de nuestras vidas y ahora mi vida está inseparable de suyas. Mi vida está ahora parte de sus vidas y estoy impaciente verles.

Veo sus caras cada noche me duermo sabiendo que mi vida está incompleto sin servir todas personas con lo que el Señor me ha bendecido. Con estas manos, teclo a ustedes que me les han afectado mucho. Con mis ojos, vi la manera en que les sirven el otro. Con mi alma, sufro la separación de ustedes, mis hermanas en México. Con mis palabras pobres, me faltan la abilidad decir lo que quiero pero algún día…algún día…algún día Dios nos reunirá y mientras yo no sé si la reunión ocurra este lado del cielo o el otro, confío que todo está bien.

Doy la gracia a Dios por ustedes.

Con mucho amor de tu hermana en los Estados Unidos,

Katarín B.

My Favorite Things

Four months, two weeks, five days and then it was over—my first semester of college. But really. Who’s counting but me? I wondered at the changes that would occur at home in my absence. I knew I would miss sibling adventures, their sporting events, friends at the Hartland Diner, and of course catching up on the local news over a cup of Vermont Coffee. Rather I receiving these updates by telephone whenever I needed a study break or as a ten-minute stress relief before an exam. In my absence changes did occur, but it wasn’t my home. It was ME. Few comforts surpass the experience of knowing something or someone will remain the same and never change despite the worst or the best of circumstances. This consistency and reassuring stability I found in my home. I love many things about my home, and I found those things become all the more sentimental when distance interceeds. These places I love make me feel peace, comfort, and relive memories all of which foster our futures.

The night sky never seemed brighter or more spacious than when I first flung the car doors open four months, two weeks, and five days after leaving home for Hillsdale. Fourteen hours in a car has a way of accentuating the grandeur of open space and crisp air. Freedom demonstrated is arms wide, head back, body begging heaven to come down. Peace experienced is the brilliant constellations gazing down from light years away. Beauty observed is the handiwork of The Great Creator leaving his designs for mankind to enjoy. He cuts his diamonds and places them in the sky to glitter and sparkle from a black velvet showcase. My eyes turned from the vertical realm to the horizontal where they were met with the dazzle of white lights from the house windows, but the room I longed to see rested at the heart of my home where cooking, laughing, and mum’s humming buzzed from morning till evening. If a home had a spirit, our spirit dwelled in the kitchen. Our spirit was born from the pitter-patter of dusty bare feet running across the kitchen floor, the grubby outstretched arms straight from the dirt reaching into the cookie jar, and when it came to school, the hours spent dropping pencils instead of using them. From age eight to eighteen I hardly grew. My feet always just skimmed the cold tiles. I plunged into a chair now nineteen—a first-semester college student—and sat back. My feet barely swept the chilled, tiled-floor. Nothing changed.

Despite major renovations, the kitchen somehow remained the same cozy space. It still maintained the glow and echoed the laughter of life over the past thirty years. In that room, we shared our meals, read the Bible, and completed all schooling. During the morning school and work hours when my Mother multitasked herself with kitchen duties and grading, she always lost one item. Somewhere in that room between our books and her kitchen utensils, she set down her red pencil to stir her yogurt or knead dough. The red pencil corrected our work highlighting from beginning to end. When one of us held out our papers to her, she would reach for our books, falter, feel her head as if expecting her pencil to be hiding in her curls, and whirl around first in place and then around the room lifting calendars and kitchenware until she found her lost tool. She told us we would one day tease her for the frequency with which she had to ask herself, “now where did I put my red pen?” a question we as children secretly delighted to hear. Alas she always seemed to find it again with a grand “aha!” Whenever I pull a red pen out of my pencil satchel at school, I smile remembering her sometimes-unproductive multitasking. Ironically, by high school often I was the culprit for the disappearance of the red pen because at that point in my education I was grading my own work snatching it up from the table before she had the time to grade my younger siblings’ math work.

While I delighted in these happy memories, my weary mind and exhausted body begged for bed. These things motivated me to pick myself up and turn to my mattress. My bed soon dominated my thoughts, and so I left my ponderings to slumber. I think every college student resonates with the love for his or her bed at home. My expressed love for my cherry-framed bed sprung out of a deep passion for my mattress with the perfect firmness yet softness to support and caress.

The morning sun always rises opposite my window, so I can not tell the time by its location in the sky against the horizon. Despite this obstacle, I know the hour by the fading blue shadow that melts off our hill. That morning as the sun rose higher and higher so did my adventuresome spirit, and as the snow shadow melted, so did my desire to sleep. The sun revealed my playground, and as every child ought, I longed to play. No more books. No more papers. No more pens, papers, or *pruebas*! My playground is not built of metal frames and soft rubber for gentle falls. We learned how to fall softly from trees, rocks, and logs. God made our playground out of the baby maple trees and decaying flora. And as the sun continued to rise, I saw after four months, two weeks, and five days the beginning of our mountain, our swing, and the little mountain streams. Here I learned to play, and here I learned to train. I climbed, ran, walked, explored, blazed, and crawled over Vermont marble always seeking higher ground with a sibling ahead or behind to push the pace. Few things we did went unchallenged, so when I awoke to my senses, I of course did the most natural thing. I went sled racing.

I raced out of bed. Scrambled into my clothes, stuffed down scrambled eggs,  and tripped out the door. Our “race” turned into one heaping sled full of friends wearing oversized hunting jackets alternating the front person who had the painful responsibility of blocking the others from the splashing, biting, powdery ice crystals. I fear I went soft in my time away because after sitting front twice and losing feeling in my face, I didn’t last long. Only the world’s best hot chocolate could unthaw the frost.

You may wonder what makes world famous cocoa. Of course, this cocoa requires one other thing of infinite value. Only north easterners understand the worth of what we call liquid gold known in laymen terms as maple syrup, but here the sap of maple trees is sacred. We add syrup to everything. The process of collecting it from trees during our “mud season” adds a sweet sparkle to the least loved season (in Vermont we have five seasons). After a batch of syrup, there is almost always enough for sugar on snow, and we hunted the property for a pile of clean snow, shoveled it into a large bowl, and raced back to the house for caramelized maple candy. Nothing tasted better and yet nothing did more damage to our braces. To see a whole gallon of liquid gold waiting for me in our fridge, caused delight beyond description.

Need I say more? I choose not to. And for that decision, I think you thank me.

 

Order of the Soul

Structure. What seemed that horrible monster as a child became a beautiful goddess as an adult. The ability to revel in an ordered life reveals character. Surely, a child has embraced living maturely when he or she acts in such a way that shows responsibility for ordering life away from parental figures, but more so when the individual appreciates a structured life merely for the sake of and ordered life.

My day begins at 6:00 a.m., and most often it ends at 10:00 p.m. allowing for eight hours of much needed rest, and physical healing. I fall asleep running over my to do list, forcing myself to stay in bed when I realize I forgot something as minor as forgetting to lay our my outfit for the next day (some may call this obsessive…I don’t disagree), and talking to Jesus about all my hopes for the next day.

Day after day I am out the door by 7:00 and by 7:06 am walking by Mary Randall Pre-School. I pause on the street caught by the elegance of the falling leaves. At 7:07 the Mary Randall School cleaner comes from around the corner of the indoor hall and through the glass pains I can hear the hum of her vacuum cleaner sucking up the dust from little shoes. She too has a structure which is ordered by time, expressed in labor, and inspired by some motif perhaps of survival, perhaps of joy in serving, perhaps because that her labor satisfies.

I walk on each step drawing me nearer to that glorious palace of music where I try my sleepy fingers at ascending and descending the horizontal plane of the piano keys.

The day is only one hour old and still dark. I would not choose to be anywhere else. Without structure I would not see the color change of the trees who escort me to my palace nor the lampposts lighting the way.

walk-to-howard-hall

Without structure I would not see the woman in the Pre-School. Without structure I would not have the pleasure of writing on the joys of structure (for I take this moment as a gift…a reward of hard study).

But with structure, I see. With structure I observe the patterns of those things that change and also those things that stay the same. With structure I learn of cyclical repetitions in history. With structure comes order, and with order follows beauty. With beauty one sees God. With God one finds the final cause and the means to “not just live but to live well” (Socrates in his discussion with Crito).

I’m a Big Girl Now

Well. Here I am. Two months into college and thriving. Perhaps too much, for many have told me when will you write? They say, “I miss your words.” I titled this particular work “I’m a Big Girl Now” because I now understand why people say college is such a big step in a young one’s life. Truly, by stepping out into the world via the golden road of the university, I anticipate four of the best years of my life, but more truthfully know this. A good university will make those four years and every year afterwards the golden years of life because that individual has come to realize learning is not imprisoned within the walls of buildings and leather bound books (or flimsy paper ones), but rather these docent assets contribute to a learned life. A good university will equip all this in a motivated student and more…even still a good university only wants the good…the best…and that life is nurtured in the home.

Yes, I am here at school and thriving, but that doesn’t mean I don’t turn around…often…and long for my home. I hugged my parents and siblings good bye ready for the next adventure at convocation. I did not cry. Some may think me callous, but I think of myself too enraptured with a new chapter and less that I lack heart for leaving. No, I am not leaving. They are. Nineteen years of labor, and now they set me free sailing. I am sure they wondered and prayed, “Would I utilize the tools they equipped me with? Would I follow the paths they told me led to a virtuous life? Would I seek the guidance of a God they told me would always care for me?”

I’m a big girl now, not that I have done anything extra to deserve the honor of being called a “grown-up,” but that I have learned to acknowledge my weaknesses. However, rather than obsessing in those weaknesses, I am learning to invest more time and energy in my strengths (Larissa 17′). Truly, what honor is there in the title of “grown-up” if actions do not match that title? By grown-up I mean, taking responsibility but of course for me that does not exclude laughter and amusement when I can afford to. In all honesty one cannot afford not to include joy in responsibility and yet even I am so guilty of not looking for the pleasure in doing one’s duty well.

I’m a big girl now, not because I have triumphed in any particular way but that I have failed and pulled up my big girl panties once more: I have missed appointments and been held accountable. Coach has revealed my Pole Vault weaknesses, but from a horizontal distance of 10 feet I have a vertical height of 13’2″ to reach Nationals made possible by strengthening my weaknesses. I have lost sleep, but gained friends. I have humbled myself of knowledge by asking questions, and gained wisdom.

I’m a big girl now because I have a new found respect for my Mother. How she managed to order eleven heads in one household on one calendar and how she did it all as the sole bread maker, family chauffeur, pantry-stocker, ama de casa, laundress, cleanser of ceramics, and ultimately professor beats my frazzled little head apparent on my furrowed, perplexed face as you would see if you were present with me now. Just little me and my little calendar, and still I flop.

I am a big girl now, because now I know what a big girl does. She does not accept failure. She strives toward excellence. She is like a war horse “laughing at fear” “leaping like locusts.” Most of all she looks back often and models what a big girl does by going back to the Source. I am a big girl because my parents have equipped me to live like one. I still need to call home often and sob and hear the same message again. and again. and again. Where is reason in the midst of emotion?

At this institution, I am one among many in pursuit of big people things. Many dream of changing the world, becoming president, and serving abroad. Others though no less noble have ambitions to graduate, become the world’s best Mother, or get consistent C’s (that’s me!). But what all of us here strive towards is always assessing what is good and true and ultimately what will be beautiful.

Need I say more? No time. Big Girls need sleep too.

The Untasted Virtue that is Perfection

The Untasted Virtue that is Perfection

K.B.

Lord,

Hold me. Sing to me. Change me.

I am not content to sit…

I am not content to “loaf”…

But in your arms.

Judge me. Rebuke me. But love me.

I desire to know the truth

And then to know your grace.

Pick me up when I fall.

Hear my words when I call.

Perfection be yours.

I shall not taste it this side of life.

I may come close but what is most…

You kindly share small glimpses of

–That thing you call perfection—

Into our dreams you breathe its strength

Where only a peek does give us courage

To keep striving towards that loftiness

That is so often call perfection.