It’s Wednesday night and for the last fifteen years that has meant choir practice.
Advent, 2000, I decided to take the invitation at our church to join the choir and sing for the season. Four Sundays, two services each. Christmas Eve, two services. I think it entailed five Wednesday nights for a total of ten hours of practice to sing Christmas carols and anthems for ten services. And this year, 2015, I will be singing two Christmas Eve services for the sixteenth time.
I’ve said it before that my favorite place (after the spot next to Steve) is in the middle of a choir. It is a glorious spot! All those voices blending in sweet harmonies, minor or major keys, pianissimos and fortissimos and the mezzos in between, leading a congregation or other audiences to a place of musical and heavenly bliss.
Ah, the heavenly chorus!
Tonight it hit me so closely what this particular choir – the West Hills Church chancel choir – means to me, and especially at this season.
It is Advent. And it is my birthday season which follows the same calendar. That is not hubris. That is just the way I experience this holy season and always have. It is hard to not associate your birthday with Christmas when your birthday is December 19th and your father told you years before that your birth was induced so you would be able to make an appearance at the family Christmas Eve gathering at the home of your grandparents. All month long there are lights and music and bustling. Surely, the fact that you have a late December birthday must be special. It could have been Christmas!
So fifteen years ago I started singing in the choir at West Hills Church and tonight it struck me deeply that in all those anthems and carols and Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, Maundy Thursdays and Easters, the eves of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the cantatas, the madrigal dinners and the occasional retreats, one of the very best birthday gifts I have ever received was to stand in the middle of this heavenly chorus and blend my voice with theirs.
In my fifteen years we have seen Dwaine retire, David lead us to Germany, Matt fail to lead us in the Hallelujah Chorus on Easter, Jared humbly try to lead but also to sing in our Gospel choir and Michael to lead us in a new season of real ministry as director.
We watched Cliff struggle with Alzheimer’s and every week take a new copy of each piece of music until his folder bulged and we always knew where to find a piece to supply someone else.
We sang with Mary – who loved the low, low alto notes! – and gathered at her funeral service when cancer took her.
We sadly let Barb and Virginia retire to the pews to listen to us instead of sing with us.
We prayed for Stan earlier this year when his father died and just this past week as he lost his mother.
We said good-bye to Sherrie as her last Sunday to sing with us just passed. She and Joe are retiring to Kansas City.
We have welcomed the young William and Sherri this year to sing with us and the more seasoned Kevin and Patti.
We have celebrated high school graduations, college graduations and even new grandbabies.
They gathered around me before we sang on Maundy Thursday in 2013, the day after I had learned that my youngest sister Cathy had been murdered.
I wanted them all to know tonight in this my birthday season that they have been such a gift to me! Fourteen years ago tonight was Wednesday, December 19th, my 43rd birthday. Two nights later, Steve gave me the best gift ever when he proposed. The following Sunday the choir was the first group I told and they were over the moon for us.
I have so much family. My siblings. My extended blood relations. My in-laws. My ink family at the print shop. My brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe. My creative Omaha Press Club family.
Tonight I am writing this thank-you note to my sacred and spiritual musical family: the West Hills Church chancel choir. And the note comes in the form of a prayer from God’s word:
I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)
Mike, Stan, William, Dan, Barb, Ida, Trink, Sherri, Grace, Priscilla, Patti, Jane, Stan, Martin, Bill, Kevin, Michael and Kathy, I thank my God every time I remember you. Thank you for letting me stand in your midst, raise my voice with yours in harmony, and sing to our Lord for his glory.