Looking Back at My Summer and Forward to What’s Ahead

Back in June, I wrote my Summer Resolutions, outlining my hopes and goals for the past 3 months. As I look back, I can see many things accomplished and some untouched; Great, fun, and fulfilling events as well as hard and painful. Among the most memorable, here are a few:

  • I spent significant time with family, not with all of them at once, and with some more than others, but I am so grateful for the moments we shared. Knowing full well how hard it is to live away from loved ones, I don’t take any face-to-face time for granted.

    Dining out in Dewey Beach

    Dining out in Dewey Beach

  • I vacationed. 🙂 Our family (minus two kids) went to Delaware for some needed R&R at the beach; I got to hang out with two of my best friends in Miami, for a few days; Juan and I spent a day in DC with my sister-in-law and fiance, and my mom and I, again in DC, met with my dear nephew whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid (always a great treat to catch up with extended family); Our family (again minus two) visited VA Beach; And Gabriel and I got to lounge at the pool a few times. All in all, I am thankful for the times of relaxation and diversion, both of which were highly needed.

    Smithsonian in DC

    Smithsonian in DC

  • I achieved some (but not all) of my cleaning/organizing goals around the house. We began our summer by literally throwing our couches out the window – I have the torn hedge to prove it – and buying new living room furniture after steam cleaning our carpets. That alone felt like a renewal of the soul! My new living arrangements bring me great contentment.

    My living room

  • I had music fun! Went to see Foreigner in concert with friends, a jazz outdoor festival with Juan and a bunch of teenagers, CWorks’ amazing production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as a loved musical of mine, Man of La Mancha, at the amphitheater.

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

  • I spent time with friends, not as much as I wanted, but I am grateful for what I got! With three family birthdays happening, we had opportunities to invite people, have great conversation, play games, and laugh (the best medicine).

    Daniel's birthday. Geneva is the new addition to our family after recently moving to VA :)

    Daniel’s birthday. Geneva is the new addition to our family after recently moving to VA 🙂

  • I worked. Somebody asked me a couple of months, what is it that I do to relieve stress. My answer came out without even thinking about it, “I go to work.” Not only did I have two incredibly packed days of lessons nearly every week, with the most amazing kids ever, but I also worked as a musical director for CWorks’ production of Seussical. I mean, can it get more fun than that? I fall more and more in love with my students and their families, and I count it as a privilege, honor, and blessing to work with each one of them. And as a bonus, I love and thoroughly enjoy the other staff members I get to have fun with. It’s a win-win.

    Horton and I

  • I learned. Attended this incredible vocal pedagogy course at the CCM Institute at Shenandoah University, where I gained great and practical knowledge, which I’ve applied to my teaching already. Next summer, I’ll complete the course and become a certified Sommatic Voicework teacher. I can’t wait!

    With my long-time friend, Kathleen, who happens to be a very talented voice teacher!

  • Probably one of the most significant blessings granted to me this summer, is the fact that I got invited to join a small, intimate, women’s fellowship group. I’ve met with them only a few times, but in these short weeks, they have had a severe impact on my spiritual growth. In a time of emotional instability (can you say pre-menopause?) and during a period in my life where God is firmly and sternly stirring my heart, digging up hidden idols, and exposing my lack of faith and trust in Him, God, who is always kind and gentle, has provided me with praying friends. They have been a tangible expression of God’s love towards me. What a gift!

    jude 1:24-25

    Jude 1:24-25

  • In addition to fun and games, this summer has been a time of growth and self-examination. I, along with my church family, have suffered loss, betrayal, and deceit. But, as with any other God-given tribulation, He has also granted us the gifts of trust, love, mercy, forgiveness, and peace. What a great God we serve!
  • Finally, my husband and I said goodbye to our Kingsway Community Church this past Sunday. I nearly cried when they all prayed for us during our last service there. Needless to say, I feel sad to leave the congregation I’ve grown to love and cherish.  This church has been an integral part of our lives ever since we moved to VA. But now God is moving us to another congregation and opening new opportunities for ministry. He is also calling us to take time to rest, examine ourselves, and listen to His guidance. I feel some grief and some apprehension. I also feel some excitement. I certainly feel peace.

Looking ahead, I am hopeful that God will show Juan and I the direction he has for us (one step at a time), as a married couple, as friends, as his servants. Honestly, I am not looking forward to putting in the effort into building new relationships. That’s the antisocial in me talking. But I am anticipating that little by little, He will help us to grow roots and feel at home at Third Presbyterian Church. 

I am also excited to start a new school year with a growing (actually I’m maxed out!) private music studio, CWorks classes, and music directing a couple of shows. I absolutely love the kids I am working with and can’t wait to spend hours learning, enjoying singing, and growing together.

My year will be busy and packed. But I hope and pray that God helps me to utilize my time wisely and effectively. I want to spend enough time in the Word, because I need it so very, very much. As I am being emotionally and spiritually stretched, I am anticipating that I will look back, at the end of this year, and see that I have become a more God-fearing person, a better wife and mom, a more faithful friend, and a more humble servant.

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Mikala

Entry No. 3 from the Tributes Series

She was just the second student I had upon moving to VA. I had left my private voice studio in Miami, where I had more than 30 students whom I loved dearly. Now I was living in Richmond, without friends, connections, or recommendations. And in came 15 year old Mikala. She was the type of kid who listened to every word I said, took it all to heart, practiced wholeheartedly, and did not settle for less than her best. I had a few students like that in Miami. Now Mikala was blessing me by reminding me that I could have the same kind of fulfillment I had left behind, here in my new home.

Mikala and I connected instantly. She had the passion and the determination needed to grow in her craft, and I had the love and enthusiasm to help her in every way I could. Not sure who helped whom the most, but I know the blessing was mutual. She has continued to study with me, every week for the past two and a half years, with the same courage and drive as she started. I admire her work ethic, discipline, and disposition; three traits that will take Mikala far in life, with the help of God.

Mikala is strong. I have seldom seen a young person suffering so many injuries and illnesses, and battle them courageously with the help of her family (hats off to her momma for being a great one :)) She is also strong in her thinking, not caving in to peer pressure, trends, or fads. She has a mind of her own, knows what she wants, and goes for it. She doesn’t like to lose time, but keeps herself engaged, takes her school seriously, and loves to excel in everything she does. I had the pleasure of helping her with speech three years ago when her mom and I ventured out and started an NCFCA club in RVA. I’m very pleased to see that Mikala is competing next week in impromptu at Nationals, and has become an exceptional debater as well.

I am blessed to have Mikala in my studio, but beyond that, I am honored to have her, as the special human that she is, in my life. One day Mikala and I will be in the presence of Jesus, singing praises to him, together. For now, we just practice.

With Elise at an NCFCA debate tournament

With Elise at an NCFCA debate tournament

Last year's recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Last year’s recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Dueting with Will. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Dueting with Will. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Competing at NATS with style and finesse. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Competing at NATS with style and finesse. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Mikala singing at last week's recital

Mikala singing at last week’s recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

So proud. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

So proud. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Fiddler on the Roof: Musings and Pondering…

What a show! What a magically, wonderful show! As I prepare to be the music director for CWorks’ winter production, I can’t help but to ponder on the meaning and the impact this script and music will have on all of us. First of all, the show is highly entertaining due to its rich characters, fabulous music and dancing, timeless humor, and deep cultural connections. It is also thought provoking and enlightening, covering themes such as family values, tradition, and antisemitism.

I am a Christian, therefore I see everything in life through the lenses of my faith. From that perspective, I write this analysis of the content of this script. It is not exhaustive by any means. It simply reflects my own (limited) thoughts and pondering on the subject matter.

Brief Summary

In the fictional, Russian village of Anatevka, lives a milkman by the name of Tevya, along with his wife Golde and his 5 daughters. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century, depicting life in a Jewish community coexisting with gentiles who, influenced and encouraged by the Tsar and a generalized antisemitic sentiment, persecute, drive away, and disperse the Jewish people living among them.

In the midst of this political turmoil, Tevya faces even greater challenges and difficulties in his own family. He has always held fast to the traditions of his people, but now his daughters are stepping away from his way of life, rejecting the old ways and choosing their own path. In Tevya’s mind, there is a struggle maintaining a balance between protecting the traditions of his people and supporting his loved ones. The fiddler on the roof illustrates such a struggle. In Tevya’s own words: “You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”

Analysis

While there are many aspects of this show that could be analyzed, my aim is to limit it to the traditions depicted in this story. I find them fascinating and worth thinking about.

In Jewish communities there are discrepancies as to what is allowed or desired according to their religion. Much like Christianity, which has differences in denominations and cultures, yet has the same core system of belief across the board, Judaism has many faces and degrees of religiosity, while being united in common beliefs. This is not an analysis of Judaism in general, but a discussion on the traditions seen in this particular family and community of Anatevka.

Traditions

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of traditions reflected in this story: Those ordained by God, and those made up by people. The script does not make a distinction between the two, but I think it’s worth mentioning the difference.

The God-mandated traditions are the ones that were established in Scripture from the time of Moses. The ones designed by man happened through the years and have strong cultural roots.

The Sabbath: The show opens with preparations for the Sabbath. The day of rest was most definitely established by God. In the Genesis account of the creation of the world, God worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th. One of the 10 commandments given by God to Moses said to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. The Jewish nation was strictly ordered to maintain a day of rest, from generation to generation. The purpose of the Sabbath was to 1. provide time for everyone (including servants, slaves, and animals) to rest; 2. have a day dedicated to the worship of God, free of distractions; 3. to point to the Messiah. In fact, from Christianity’s world view, all God-mandated laws were given to prepare the way for Jesus, and in Jesus, all the law is perfectly kept and fulfilled (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill it” – Matt 5:17). So how did Jesus fulfill the law? 1. By keeping it. 2. By becoming our rest. This sounds simplistic, but it truly is a remarkable, deep truth:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus provides rest. This profound truth shows us that in our quest for salvation and in our desire to be right with God, man has always struggled to perform, do good, please a perfect God, and has always failed. Through religion, we cannot possibly reach God, because He is holy and we are not, he is perfect and we are flawed. All our efforts, in the end, are tiring and heavy. So when Jesus stretched out his arms on a cross and died on our behalf, He unequivocally declared that He, the only perfect sacrifice, paid the penalty for our sins. Therefore, we need to struggle no more. We can actually rest from trying to be right with God. We are right in Him. We now please God because we love him, not because we hope He will avert his wrath. It is the greatest of news! And it is most certainly true rest from our labor. JESUS IS OUR SABBATH.

Match-making: Now here we see a tradition that is not mandated in Scripture. This is a cultural custom which in many cases has proven to be very practical (I guess?) Match making is at the center of this story, as one of the traditions that is upheld, almost at the same level of the other God-given laws. We see examples of matches being made in Scripture, but there is no law dictating it as the only way to marry. Tevya’s daughters go against this tradition by choosing their own husbands. Even though he struggles with this, Tevya goes along with their choices (at least with two of the three daughters), proving he is progressive and caring enough to break from his own way of life in order to support and love his family.

Marriage: The topic of marriage is central to the story. Again, marriage is mandated by God back in the creation of Adam and Eve. It is the holiest of unions in the human realm and it is to be highly valued by God’s people. In Fiddler on the Roof, the issue of mixed marriages comes to light. We see in Scripture that God created all races and colors and He doesn’t have an issue with inter-racial marriages. However, it was clearly mandated to the Jewish nation that they were to marry within their own faith. Why? 1. To preserve the worship and the knowledge of God throughout the generations, and 2. Of course, to point to Christ.

First, the Jews were the only monotheistic people group for thousands of years. They were the only ones who had the truth of God in their minds, hearts, and in the written law of Moses. They were to marry each other to preserve and advance this knowledge. In Christianity, we see the same principle at work. God calls us to not be unequally yoked (II Co 6:14). This inequality has nothing to do with race, education, or cultural differences, and all to do with our faith.

Second, marriage points to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32). More specifically, it points to the relationship between Jesus and his people (the church). What used to be a distant relationship between man and God, worshiping in a temple containing a big, heavy curtain for the purpose of separating man from God, has become a close, intimate relationship. Jesus has drawn near to us, opening the door for us to have access to God. Ephesians calls it a “great mystery”. I am very thankful for this reality. During this Christmas season, I am especially blessed by the knowledge that Jesus condescended and became a human, in order to be like me, make atonement for me, and have an intimate relationship with me.

Conclusion

I am so thankful for the Jewish people. They have been the recipients of God’s covenant and love, as well as His law and prophets. In spite of persecution, dispersion, attempts of annihilation, and hatred, God has preserved the Jews and has been true to His promise.

I am grateful for Jesus Christ, who was a Jew and fulfilled all the laws and the prophets. He has broken the divides that once separated the people of God from all other nations. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or gentile, male or female, master or slave. Salvation is equally available to all, through faith. There is no longer a need to strive to gain salvation, for He has done that for us. He is truly our rest.

Aside from the conceptual analysis of the main themes of this play, I am beyond excited to be a part of it, simply because it is fun and entertaining. And, of course, the music is fantastic! In fact, I need to stop writing this oh-so-long post and get downstairs to my piano to finish studying the music. After all, auditions start tomorrow!

If you live in RVA and want to see this amazing production, you can buy tickets here.

Shalom!

Fiddler on the Roof

My job rocks!

Just a quick note to express my gratitude for the happiness I feel in doing my job.

I’ve been teaching for 23 years. The first class I ever taught was a mommy-and-me music class, in my living room. Since then, I have never seen a time when I wasn’t teaching. The subjects have been varied (homeschooling co-op academics, speech and debate teams, 4-H marine ecology, among others). But mostly, I’ve taught music, from tiny kids to adults, and everything in between. Choirs, ensembles, theory, guitar, singing, composing, worship, musical theatre…

And I can honestly say, I have always loved my job.

My life has been enriched by the students I’ve had and the families I’ve met. I have felt the fulfillment that comes from helping others find their voice or their calling, or even an enjoyable hobby that will last through a life-time.

Not many people can say they love what they do for a living, I’m fully aware of that. So with that in mind, I want to shout a big, heart-felt thank-you to God almighty! You have blessed me!

My first mommy-and-me class. My daughter, Lizette is the second kid from the right (his name is Andrew). My baby, Gabriel is sitting, watching, all the way on the left :)

My first mommy-and-me class. My daughter, Lizette, now 25 yrs old, is the second kid from the right (his name is Andrew). My baby, Gabriel is sitting, watching, all the way on the left 🙂

Gomer’s Song

So I wrote a song a little while ago. I don’t particularly like this home recording of it, but oh well, here it goes.

The reason why this song is meaningful to me is because it’s based on the story of Hosea and Gomer. It goes basically like this:

Hosea was a prophet of God. God spoke to him and told him to take Gomer as wife. She was an unfaithful woman who continued to be unfaithful, even after their marriage. She had children with other men. Somehow (not specified in the book), Gomer ended up back out on the streets prostituting herself. She ended up in a slave market, more than likely being sold as a sex slave. By all standards, but especially by God’s standards, Gomer did not deserve for Hosea to stick by Gomer. But God spoke again to Hosea and told him to go and buy his wife from the slave market (even though he had full rights to her, for free). He did just that. With 15 shekels of silver, he paid the price to redeem his wife from slavery.

Hosea is a picture of Jesus, who was to come years later. The imagery of this book explains how God’s people are unfaithful to their God, but Jesus paid the price to buy us back to himself. He paid the highest price for us, because He loves us and desires an intimate relationship with us, with me. What love! What gift! This is why I will love him forever.

It’s a gift!

Singing with my boys

Singing with my boys

There is something so deeply entrenched in our souls that makes us, the human race, sing. I’m not sure how it works, but I know, from experience and from observation, that singing is a natural, instinctual even, response and overflow of our emotions. We don’t teach people to sing in the same way we don’t teach them to walk or smile. They just do. It’s simply a part of life: A gift from our maker.

Yes, there are factors which contribute to better or worst singing (I’m a voice teacher, I should know) but in the end, whether in key or out of key, trained or untrained, in company or alone, we allow our feelings to surface as we sing or as we listen to the singing of others.

Do you have legs that work? Then walk! Who am I to tell you that my walking is prettier than yours? Sure, some of us can use our legs for marathons while others simply to transport us a few feet, but if they move, they move. I get it, I basically stink at drawing (my father’s visually artistic genes skipped a generation, apparently), but I refuse to let that stop me while playing Pictionary. I will draw, even if badly, because I have hands that work and eyes that see. So why not sing? We have a built-in instrument that goes with us wherever we go and that requires simply the flow of air and the opening of our mouths. Yes, yes, you don’t need to point out that some singing sounds, well, less than pretty, painful even, but if God intended for only some of us to sing, then He would have given only some of us the vocal folds to do it.

So, why sing? Because you can. And because it’s healing and affirming and all around fantastic. Sing when you are happy and filled with energy; sing with others around a campfire and feel the bond of frienship; sing when you are depressed and in need of a good cry; sing when you’re in love; sing in the shower, you’ll enjoy the acoustics; sing when you worship God, in your car and in your church, and while you vacuum your house. Sing because you can, and because it allows you to feel and to let it all out.

I teach music for a living and I lead the choir at my church. I constantly meet people who believe they can’t sing (when they can.) Such belief usually comes from a time in childhood when they were told by others that they didn’t have a good voice. I have met countless of people who refuse to open their mouths to sing because they are convinced they can’t do it. What a horrible shame. I am not saying that everyone has a pretty voice or that everyone has musical talent. What I am saying is that everyone should sing. Period.

Parents, let’s never tell our kids that they can’t sing! Instead, encourage them. Sing them to sleep when they are babies, sing along to children’s songs with nursery rhymes, sign them up for choirs and music classes in school and after school. If they have a passion for singing, do everything in your means to help them develop their voice and treat it safely, not to obtain fame and wealth (even though that does happen in some cases), but to have longevity in their voice, to bless others, to create songs and record them, and to sing to their kids and grand kids.

Singing is good. And fun.

Only some of us will be professional musicians and singers. Only some of us will be cast in shows or hired as soloists or selected for a band. That should be expected. But singing is not only for the professionals. It’s a gift from God to all of mankind. So sing and worship and cry and laugh, because that what singing is for.