29 July 2011

How to be Happy with a Day's Work

At the end of my day, there are things on the list that haven't been done yet. There are things that got crossed off the list, too. I sit near the window with the blinds open longer than usual, because as Sabbath deepens with the darkness at sunset, I hope against hope that the fireflies are still here. Sure enough, I get to see some, flying right accross my front porch. I love fireflies.

While my husband is at choir rehearsal, I read Psalm 92, the one titled "Psalm for the Sabbath." As the temptation to wish I had accomplished more today crosses my mind, I read about the best way to resist such futile thoughts:

"It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High: to shew forth Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night, upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound. For Thou, LORD, hast made me glad through Thy work: I will triumph in the works of Thy hands." Psalm 92:1-4

I may not have done everything I meant to do. I may have made mistakes, and have things to repent of.

But that's the beauty of the gospel, of the robe of Christ's righteousness. At the end of the day, when I come before the throne to claim the merits of Jesus, I can look over the hours and the accomplishments and take His instead of mine. I can review what He did today in my life--the prayers He answered, the blessings He bestowed--and triumph in the work He did.

The choice seems clear.

Why wallow in my own inadequacies when I can triumph in the things Jesus did for me today, or in the things He created and sustains in the nature I see all around me? What better reason would there be to give thanks than these fireflies outside and this cleanest of hearts transplanted in me? Who wouldn't love the mind that thought to make a little flying bug that glows, and the heart that loved me so much that He died to save my life?

18 July 2011

All Things Familiar: Bristol Bay Journal Part 3

It's amazing to me, sitting there in church, how I am in this place for the first time, yet I know the preacher.

He used to visit my small Washington town, pop into my office, read my e-mail messages from afar. Now we're both visiting here, a familiar place to him but an unfamiliar place to me. He remembers me, remembers my parents when we chat and I tell him my maiden name, and I meet his lovely wife.

The deeper familiarity, however, is one I recognize in the message he shares that day: Christ's robe of righteousness, His blood shed for me, is both enough for my salvation, and my only salvation.

It's a meal I never tire of--the spiritual food of Christ and Him crucified, offering me nourishment and victory in every moment.

17 July 2011

The Last Shower: Bristol Bay Fishing Part 2

The morning comes before I need it to in Alaska, and night comes quite late. Sabbath, from sundown to sundown, runs from something like ten before midnight until the same time the next day. I don't remember exactly. And I don't know how early the sun comes up, but it's quite early. Since the night isn't terribly dark, I simply rely on my body's need for rest and not the darkness to put me to sleep that first night.

My body didn't fail me that night or any night following for as long as I was on the boat.

We all stir and rise--all four of us, these other three experienced fishermen and their inexperienced new arrival, who share these 32 feet one way and 12 feet the other way--and begin preparations for the day. I participate in Bible readings and prayer with various combinations of them at least twice before breakfast, and then realize that, if I am to keep my word and play the piano for church services this morning, I had better eat, shower, dress, and go.

But it's not that simple, and I begin planning my attack:

  1. Eat first. Husband just made breakfast, so take advantage of it.

  2. Collect Bible and purse to take with me to church, along with anything else I need from the boat. (Who wants to come all the way back down to the dock and climb over two other boats to get one little thing when a little efficiency might actually get me to the church on time?)

  3. Go to the van (the one that we drive) with father-in-law so that

  4. he can take me to the locker (which is also known as the van, but we don't drive it because it's just a big trailer that stores things in it all year, even when it's not fishing season). The locker isn't very far away--maybe five- to ten-minutes' walk--but at this point every minute counts. I also need father-in-law along because it's still only my first twenty-four hours out here, and I haven't proven that I can open the locker by myself. Or, more importantly, close and lock it again when I'm done gathering the clothes I would like to wear to church, along with my towel and toiletries for the shower.

  5. Take my shower at the PAF bathroom (this time, we decide the PAF is better for me than the community bath house because it's free and we don't need to grab the sack of quarters).

  6. Ride to church, play the piano. Husband will ride one of the bikes up the {smallish} hill to church when he is finished cleaning up breakfast as well as himself, and I will see him there.

There's only one slight interruption to my brilliant orchestration of the morning: Someone else is in the PAF shower stall when I arrive and need to get into it myself. No matter. I soon realize she is almost done, and as we trade spaces, she slipping out and I slipping in, we strike up a bit of conversation.

It's funny how quickly we have trained ourselves to find commonality between strangers. I don't remember how, but it's not long before we discover it. She's running late to church, too.

Does she need a ride? Well, yes. No, she doesn't recall meeting my family. She's set netting...we're drift. That must be why. No, really, I'll be done sooner than you can walk up the hill, and we'd be happy to give you a ride.

{I don't confess I'm the pianist, and Father-in-law coordinates the whole fishermen's service, so they're not likely to start without us anyway.}

I finish the shower, knowing it will likely be my last until the next Friday. Somehow it seems just like any other shower, but I know it won't be long until I will long for another just like it. Or maybe the next one should be longer. Yes, I think to myself, by this time tomorrow I won't feel like this last shower was long enough, lingered in enough.

We climb in the van, she and I in the back, and continue our common-ground investigation.

What do you do for the rest of the year, when you're not fishing? She a first-grade teacher, I a graduate school student in music.

Where? Oh, really? She must know such-and-such a man, who came and spoke for some events I helped coordinate before I went back to school. She does, and asks if I know her daughter and son-in-law who live in the same small Michigan town I do. I don't, but we determine we know some more people in common from said small town, and that she has connections in the small Washington town I used to live in.

She has been fishing six summers. I have only been in town since yesterday afternoon and I'll try out the fishing part by tomorrow. I wonder what keeps her coming back every year, but before I get a chance to ask, we are at church and I am whisked inside just in time to make arrangements with singer-classmate from college who happens to be fishing this summer to sing special music next Sabbath (perhaps a duet with choir-director husband?), walk to the electric keyboard, eye it suspiciously (that's how I always look at the electronic ones the first time), and begin playing.

14 July 2011

Landing in a New World: Bristol Bay Journal Part 1

My father-in-law booked my flight. He must have known which side of the plane would get the best views, and he made sure to get me a window seat not only on my flight to Anchorage, but also on the short jump over to Dillingham.

I had never seen so many little lakes before. I wondered if I could count them, but soon decided it would be more accurate to wait until some point after the second coming and simply ask God how many there were. Certainly He would remember. He'll probably even tell me each of their names.

Which made me wonder, since He calls each of the stars by name and we humans can't possibly know and name all the stars, if He gives things names in addition to the names we give them. Or before we give names to anything. Another thing to ask, I suppose. He let Adam name the animals, but I guess I don't know if God has His own names for Alaska's lakes.

The gentleman next to me is a dentist, on his first trip to Alaska for a fishing vacation. I am a music student, a vegetarian one, on my second trip to Alaska in general but my first trip to Bristol Bay for a commercial fishing venture with my husband and father-in-law.

They've put in quite a few seasons together, and the whole family is waiting with baited breath to see how I will take to fish and water. Will I get sea sick? Will the sight of all the dead fish make my stomach churn?

"Don't eat any fish," says my brother-in-law.

I'm startled. Did I hear him right? Really? This is his one recommendation?

"At least, not if you want to stay vegetarian. They'll taste so good you'll want to keep eating them."

I'm skeptical about this advice, but I don't intend to set about proving him wrong.

We land in Dillingham, get off the plane, follow the crowd across the runway, through a fence, and around to the front of the airport. It feels like a crowd, probably because everyone is waiting for baggage in a small space, and it takes some time before I can get close enough to find out if my bags landed with me. Meanwhile, the kind family friend who meets me at the airport figures out who I am, and we wait for luggage together.

The tide schedule has been nicely arranged so that the F.V. Ingolf will come into the harbor to meet me by early evening. Still, there is time to see the fish and game office and get introduced to a few more family friends before the fishermen deliver the day's catch and fill up with fuel.

When we get to the harbor, I meet my driver's nephew, who also happens to have been a high school classmate of mine. I decide this may be a new world, but it is still part of a rather small one. We park and get out, and my gracious hostess points toward the boat (otherwise, she knows, I may never find it on my own) and sends me down the dock to be reunited with my husband after nearly a week apart.

I stop at the row she indicated. They are about the third boat from the dock. I peer at each of three orange slickers, each with their backs to me. Which one is he? I ask myself, and after a moment of pondering, make my best guess and shout out my greetings. He turns, smiles, waves.

Good. Got it right.

I tour the boat, which doesn't take long. It's 32 feet in length--the longest regulations will allow for this activity. We get my bags, take them to the "locker", which is essentially like a semi trailer parked here to store fishing-season things year-round, and sort through what I will need on the boat and what I will leave on land for the week. I take enough pairs of socks to wear a new pair every day, just in case, even though I know I might wear the same pair all week as we work hard and sleep hard between sets of fish.

We get my fishing licenses and my Peter Pan hat, go to the grocery store, prepare for Sabbath. I will spend my first night and day on the boat in the harbor, and I find that although the sleeping quarters are quite efficient in their use of space and would probably make my mother feel rather closed in (good thing claustrophobia doesn't have to be inherited), they are cozy and well padded with sleeping bags. There's even enough room for my husband next to me.

13 July 2011

Five Memories

Thinking back over the school year, sorting through goals, piling themes around in my mind, weaving a few related ones together, a conversation with my piano teacher surfaces more than once, perhaps in more mental stacks than she imagined it would.

One stack, the obvious one, is what I call the "How in the world am I going to do this graduate school thing, recital and all, for another year?" pile. The other, the one even closer to my heart of hearts, is what I call the "How in the world am I going to get this whole book of the Bible stay in my mind for a lifetime?" pile. And somehow, her words ring true not just for school, but also for life.

When it comes to the music (the hour of it I've begun to learn in preparation for my graduate recital), I struggle to stay focused, play the details I know are there without getting distracted by other thoughts.

When it comes to the words (the Revelation, and now parts of Daniel, that I've quietly been tucking away inside myself for several years now), I struggle to review enough, keep them fresh, feel like they're ingrained to the point that I could honestly look you in the eye and tell you I've memorized a book of the Bible and be able to recite all its sentences and paragraphs to you at the drop of a hat.

How do I make a memory? One that really stays? One that I can communicate effectively and accurately to others around me when I need to or want to?

She gives me words, ideas about making memories. I write them down, feeling that I might otherwise forget them.

There are five kinds, she says. Five memories to build.

Most of the time, unless we force ourselves to exercise more of them, we might build two or three memories at most. She's right, I decide, because the more I think about what she says, I believe I use only two, and I figure out how those two without the others set me up for some of the fumbles I make in the recital hall.

These are they:

  1. Visual: what the music looks like in the score (on the page). Or, in memorizing Scripture, this would be what the words look like in my Bible.

  2. Visual: what the notes look like on the keyboard as I play them. Or, in memorizing Scripture, this might be the mental picture of what the words are describing.

  3. Aural: what the music sounds like. Or, what the words sound like aloud.

  4. Muscular: what the music feels like in my hands as I play it. Or, what the words feel like in my mouth as I speak them. (I know that might seem strange, but if you've ever sung formally, like in a choir, you generally begin to recognize not just how something sounds when it sounds good, but how it feels in your mouth and vocal chords when you sing it.)

  5. Theoretical: how the music (individual notes, chords, phrases, etc.) functions as it moves from one section to the next. Or, how the words string together to form phrases, sentences, verses, paragraphs, chapters, books...

Point being this: whether I'm working toward playing a recital or putting memory verses away for the long term, have I gone through the passage thinking specifically about sound? Is my visual memory built only on what the notes look like as my hands play them, or could I also "see" what they look like on the page and play them from memory as if I'm actually reading them from the score?

If I could turn one piano piece, or one verse of the Bible, into five different memories in my mind, wouldn't I increase my chances of reproducing it accurately? Even if I'm tired? Even if something in the moment distracts me?

It would cost me, to be sure--time, energy, mental exploration. But somehow it strikes me that the potential payoff would be well worth the effort.