Despite the craziness, there was always music…

For as much as the home I grew up in was full of its own type of craziness and dysfunction (see previous post), our saving grace was music.  My parents were great music lovers, and I can barely remember a time that some kind of music was not playing in our house.  Both of my siblings played the piano beautifully (me, not so muClassical Musicch), and even though our old upright grand converted player piano was out-of-tune and permanently on sustain, the music that came out of it still rings in my heart.  My sister played everything from Chopin to show tunes.  My brother favored Beethoven. especially “Moonlight Sonata.”

One Christmas, we gave my dad a ukulele.  We all sat around, my sister on the flute, me playing maracas, and my brother on some goofy kazoo, playing Christmas carols.  Ah, family togetherness!  See what the music world missed?

I’ll never forget the year my sister bought a stereo record player for our family.  This was not a little “suitcase” record player: this was a piece of furniture, with a record player on one side, and an FM radio on the other.  It was always playing, especially at Christmas.

My dad purchased every “50 Great Classics” and  “25 Enduring Favorites” album that was sold on television, along  with the Firestone Christmas Albums that came out each year.  He loved the Mills Brothers, and the famous barbershop quartet, The Buffalo Bills.  We sang along with Mitch Miller and watched every musical variety show on TV.  Only recently did I learn that my dad conducted a community choir in the town where they lived before moving to my hometown.  He had a deep voice, similar to that of Bing Crosby…  I can’t hear “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” without thinking of my dad.

Now, my mom, while a lover of music, couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles.  I think her problem was that most songs were out of range for her low voice.  She was the victim of our teasing, but she laughed right along with us, and was ever-present at our choir concerts.

Stereo I would come home on Friday night with my latest purchase — a “45” of a top song that week — put it on the stereo and sing into the mirror holding my hairbrush as a mic.  Oh yes, I was that girl.

In my bedroom, I had an AM radio with a slim “pillow speaker” connected by a jack.  It could pickup clear-channel stations from as far away as Indiana (WOWO, Fort Wayne).  The music coming from under my pillow drowned out the arguments from downstairs.

Looking back, I believe that music was God’s gift to our family.  It brought peace, joy, and unity amidst fractured times. It brought solace and comfort.  It echos still with pleasant memories.

Surely music is one of God’s purest gifts of creation.  We use it to express our love to Him.  That’s because He first used music to express His love for us, and He has placed it deep within us.  In the book of Job, God tells us that He laid the cornerstone of the earth’s foundation, “…while the morning stars sang together.” (Job 38:7)  What would we give to hear that tune?  Do you suppose Adam and Eve did?

And in Zephaniah 3: 17, we see these beautiful words:

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)

I didn’t always know it was you singing.  But thank you, God, for the music.

(c) Copyright 2015 by Mary E. Egidio.  Permission is given to share, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.  

Not My Face, Not My Mirror

IMG_0483 (2)I looked in the mirror and was shocked by what I saw.  I had lost my balance when my foot hit a pine cone and down I went in the soft grass.  Although I seemed to be in one piece, I knew my face had taken much of the impact when I’d landed.  Expecting minor scrapes, I was shocked to see small cuts, blood streaked down my face, and a bruise already forming on my left cheek.  But while my friends expressed their concern and ran to get ice and first aid, I was seeing something else they couldn’t see in that mirror.

I was seeing the face of my mother.  My mother, sitting across the breakfast table from her ten year-old daughter, with a bruised cheek and blackened eye.  She’d claimed to have fallen out of bed, but I’d heard the argument the night before, the yelling, the slap.  Worst, perhaps, was that I thought she was to blame for it.  “If she’d just leave him alone when he came home late, this wouldn’t happen,” I’d thought.

This was the family secret.  The middle-class neighborhood, the sales executive father who never missed a day of work, Sunday morning mass each week, the outward appearance of a happy family–all hiding the deeper secrets of alcoholism, abuse, denial and infidelity.  I didn’t know any different.  I thought this happened behind everyone’s closed doors.

I was almost in tears, looking at my own face in the mirror years later, a face that was closer to the age of my mother’s then. No.  I never wanted to see this, I thought.  This wasn’t going to happen to me.  Forgotten emotions started to build inside me.  But then I realized it hadn’t happened to me.  What had happened to me truly was an accident.  I truly had fallen. In that moment I realized once again how far God has brought me.

Domestic violence becomes a learned behavior, both on the part of the abuser and the victim.  It is a pattern that often is repeated from generation to generation. Hand-in-hand with other addictive behaviors, it is part of a seemingly continuous cycle.  So what happened in my life that caused the difference?  What broke the cycle?

I credit my older sister, who became a recovering alcoholic, and who took me to Al-Anon and Recovery, Inc. meetings, where I began to understand that the family dynamics in my house weren’t healthy.  I read books such as David Seamens’ Healing for Damaged Emotions and Healing of Memories.  Then I sought the miraculous, transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit, who healed me from the inside out and replaced the pattern of abuse with a heart full of His peace. It took years to fully understand and accept the unconditional love my Heavenly Father has for me. He showed me families who truly lived out the grace of God in their lives together, with no secrets and nothing to hide. In answer to the deepest prayer of my heart, God gave me a kind and loving husband, with whom I have shared 37 years, and who has never once raised a hand to me in anger, or even spoken abusively.  I am truly blessed.  I am truly thankful.

Seeing my face in the mirror that day was shocking. Even after 50 years, the memories stung.  But through my tears, I realized I could sing with joy, “My chains are gone!  I’ve been set free!  My God, my Savior has rescued me! And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending love, Amazing Grace!” *

*”Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” refrain written by Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio  (c) copyright 2006 Sixsteps Music

***October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  If you need help, please, don’t hesitate.  Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or your local law enforcement.

Copyright 2015 by Mary Egidio. Permission is granted to share, but with attribution and not for profit.

When Love Truly Wins

IMG_0247When Daniel Jones, editor of the New York Times “Modern Love” column was getting married, he and his wife discussed the possibility of digressing from the traditional wedding vows, to something more realistic.  Rather than a blind “I promise”, she thought  “I promise to try my best” might be more accurate…something on which they could honestly follow through.  Although they stuck with the traditional vows, twenty years later, Jones reaches this conclusion:  “Not once have I felt tempted to break them, only to think, Oops…but I promised not to… I’m more likely to say to myself, I wouldn’t want to hurt Cathi in that way…. Or, I don’t want to do that to us.”

He finishes with this:  “Here, in the real world of marital commitment, it turns out we’re less concerned about breaking rules than about breaking the heart of the one we love most.” *

What a wonderful picture of a life surrendered to Christ!  It’s not about keeping a long list of rules and judging ourselves and others by them. It’s not about attempting a perfection that could never be attained on our own.  Rather, our focus is to be on our love for God and for the people around us.  When the commitment to His holy love truly consumes us, anything less holds no allure.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment in the law, His reply was a new commandment:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….And …Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37, 39 (NIV)

But unconditional love can be complicated and messy.  And there’s that whole “commitment” thing to deal with.  What if I don’t feel like it anymore?  What if a better offer comes along? How much of my time and energy am I really expected to give?  Relationships can be so unpredictable! Instead, despite our Lord’s command, it’s too easy and much more comfortable for us to get out that clipboard and checklist, to track how we and the others around us measure up.

Paul instructed the early church in Galatia about such an issue.   As Jews converted to Christianity, they mistakenly thought they still had to follow the complicated Hebraic laws, and forced the converted Gentiles to do the same.  By doing so they were entirely missing the freedom for which Christ had died.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free,” Paul explained.  “Do not let yourselves be burdened again in a yoke of slavery.” Gal. 5:1 (NIV)  He goes on to explain it this way:   “The entire law is summed up in a single command:  Love your neighbor as yourself….So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  Galatians 5:14, 16 (NIV)

It’s pretty simple.  Forget the list.  Live in freedom.  Follow the Spirit.  Love with abandon.  To do anything less would break the heart of the One we love most.

*Daniel Jones, excerpted from Love Illuminated, as published in Good Housekeeping, Feb. 2014, p. 168

Copyright 2015  Mary Egidio — permission is given to share, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

My Brother, My Friend*

*I wrote these thoughts one year ago, and shared them at my brother’s funeral the following day…

I’ve heard it said that your sibling is your first best friend, and that was certainly true for me and Dave.

Dave and MaryWe shared a bedroom in the early years, since our sister was 13 years older than I was.  I slept in a crib with the side taken off, and he slept in a twin bed.  But most nights, I ended up in bed with him.  My earliest memories are of us making shadow animals on the wall in the room.  I was probably 4 or 5, and he was 8 or 9.   He invented a contest, called, “see who can keep their hand up in the air longest”.. . but, of course, he had the wall on his side to help!

I adored my brother; followed him around our neighborhood.  If you’ve ever seen “To Kill a Mockingbird”, with the brother and sister Jem and Scout, that was us, only without nearly as much drama.  I distinctly remember him challenging me to jump across a creek or do something scary – simply by saying, “Come on, you can do it..”  then he’d count…   “One…” “No, I can’t, I’m scared!”, “Two…”, “I can’t, I can’t…”, “Three!” — and I’d jump!

When I got to school, on the first day when roll was taken, I’d inevitably hear, “Oh, you’re Dave’s sister.”  I was proud to say I was.  Little did I know how high he’d set the bar.  He was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, and I didn’t learn until much later that he’d been accepted at several high-profile universities, with big scholarships.  But my mom convinced him to stay closer to home instead.

As school kids we had separate bedrooms, as our sister had moved away, but that didn’t stop him from sharing his music through the wall.  When he was in high school he introduced me to the rock classics of the late 60’s: Santana, Cream, Credence Clearwater Revival, and other groups of the day. I was so proud when the band he was in, “The London Dock”, won the battle of the bands at our town’s sidewalk festival.  He was the keyboard man.  They did a mean “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

As we grew up and went our separate ways, we had less contact with each other..  but he always made the effort for important days.  He came to my college graduation, gave me away at my wedding.  And when my children came along, he never forgot their birthdays or Christmas.  They call him “Unkie Dave.”

And after we moved to Florida, I’d get a phone call when a hurricane was threatening.  In 2004, when four of them when right through our county, we talked a lot.

But it was Facebook that really helped us to connect, talk, and share our lives again.  He was able to see my kids and our grandson grow up through pictures and videos, and I was able to see his posts about music, animals, the things he loved.  (in the days and months after his passing, I connected with many of Dave’s Facebook friends who never actually met him face-to-face, but felt profound loss with his passing)

It’s been such a joy in these days to meet  and connect with the people he loved and who loved him.  His family, his co-workers, his Facebook friends…  And to hear your stories about my brother, and to know how much you loved and respected him.   He was a life-long learner, and it sounds like he shared that love of learning  and laughter with all of you.  Hearing your stories about him has challenged me to be more passionate about the things I love, and to make good use of the time I have left on this earth.

The last time I was in our home town was in 2003.  My daughter and I made a road trip from FL, and I came back for my 30th reunion and to see Dave.  One afternoon he took me for a hike on one of his favorite trails.  It was a beautiful day, and we had a great time talking and just enjoying nature.  At one point we had to cross a small stream, and he stepped across easily with his long legs,  and reached a hand back to help me jump over.  He didn’t have to count “one, two, three” this time, but my mind flashed back to those days when we wandered the neighborhood.

Now he’s made the crossing ahead of me again.  Easily.  Peacefully.

His last post on Facebook, on June 25th , (the night before his death)  was this..  “having given some folks their ‘fair share’ of harassment, I move along…”

And I’m waiting on the other side.   We all are.  Wishing, in a way, that we could follow.  But knowing we have to stay around for a while longer.

There won’t be anyone else in my life like Dave.  He was my first best friend.  I’ll miss him.

 

Life Is What Happens. . .

“I can’t believe we’re actually going to do this.”

It was Friday night. We were enjoying  a light dinner together at one of our favorite restaurants, talking about our plans for the upcoming week.  On the following  Thursday we would be flying to the Dominican Republic for Steve’s brother’s wedding.

We had spent the last month gathering appropriate wedding attire for a tropical beach ceremony.  Our travel plans were set.  We’d gotten out our passports, I was planning to brush up on my Spanish.  Mostly, we were looking forward to being with family, meeting our new sister-in-law, and making new friends.  At least, that was the plan.

But later that night, shortly after midnight, Steve woke me from a sound sleep.  “I’m sorry to wake you up, but I’ve been having chest pains for about an hour.”

In the span of a few hours, we exchanged wedding attire for hospital gowns, and passports for insurance cards.  Rather than Spanish, we were brushing up on  medical terms, and learning some new vocabulary:  troponin levels, EKG’s, cardiac catheterization, stent.   We still spent time talking with family–by phone– and made some wonderful new friends in the caregivers at the hospital.  Oh, and we even have pictures!  Before and after pictures of his heart, giving evidence of a once-blocked artery, now able to do its proper job.

The whole experience reminded me once again that life is what happens while we’re making other plans.

We’re not the first people on this earth whose plans have been upended.  The Bible is full of people who were rerouted on God’s highway.  Everyone from Joseph to Moses to the crippled beggar in front of the Beautiful Gate, suddenly found themselves on a different path than they’d set out upon. Through their experiences–detours and all–they gained a deeper level of trust and obedience.  They grew.  And we did, too.

I know that many good people experience difficult circumstances with sometimes devastating outcomes.  Why we were spared from what could have been far worse, I cannot say.  I only know this experience, and those of the past year, have caused us to appreciate so much more the family, friends, blessings, and opportunities that God has given us, by His grace and mercy.

Wedding or not, I think that’s the best gift anyone could receive.

Copyright 2013 Mary Egidio — Permission is granted to reproduce, but with attribution and not for commercial gain.

Do You Have the Key?

My phone rang yesterday, and an unfamiliar number came up on the screen– but the voice on the other end was my daughter.  “Mom, are you at home?”

“Yes, what’s wrong? Where are you calling from?”

“The neighbors.  I locked myself out of the house. Do you still have my spare house key?” (There’s a reason for this question, I’ll tackle that later)

“I think so.”

“Good.  I’m locked out of the house.  And Logan is inside sleeping.”

I quickly grabbed every key hanging on our refrigerator and jumped in the car to head to my daughter’s house.  Fortunately, I’m on vacation from work this week, and she only lives a mile from my house.  No biggie, in comparison to much worse situations, but still concerning.  I delivered the key (now I know which one is hers), thanked her neighbor, and headed back home.

I can’t help but thinking that we live in a world where people get themselves into some difficult situations.  Some are more desperate and tragic than others, but difficult nonetheless.  I might have a key that would fit their situation.  A key that would point them to Jesus.  A kind word, a helping hand, a needed meal or clothing, something that’s just hanging around waiting to be used.  While I can’t possibly help every person with every problem, if I’m attuned to God’s voice, I can use some unique key, a God-given  gift or talent, my resources, my influence,  to help unlock them from their dilemma.   I’ve found the more I listen and obey God’s voice in these situations, the more He uses me.  And guess what?  I get the blessing in return.

Paul exhorts the church in Rome:  “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” Romans 12: 4-6a (NIV)  Further along in that section he mentions specific gifts, and then says — “if you’ve got it, use it!” (Egidio paraphrase)

Back to that key story . . . a couple years ago Lizz asked us if we had her spare Mustang key.  Hmmm. The one she hung on the ‘frig?  Hmmm.   Well. Dad was going through the keys on the ‘frig and said, “We don’t own a Ford anymore, why do we still have this key?”  And threw it away.  Ooops!  Sorry, baby.

See you later, I’m gonna go label the spare keys.  Got any you’re not using?

Copyright Mary Egidio 2012 — permission is granted to reproduce this devotional, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Anticipation

One of my favorite family activities as a child was when we loaded the car and drove to Chautauqua Lake, just over into New York state.  My dad belonged to a club there on the lake.  We’d meet friends and spend a carefree day fishing, picnicking, and just having fun.   I loved the smell of the water, the whzzzz of a line being cast, the tug of a nibble as I watched the bobber float in the lake.  Nightcrawlers and minnows were my friends.  I often made the first catch, even as a young girl. 

The trip to the lake seemed to take forever, but it was less than an hour from home.  I remember a spot on the way, at the crest of a hill, where we could catch a glimpse of the sparkling water shimmering in the distance.  “There it is!” we’d cry.  “We’re almost there.”  We were still a number of miles away, but catching a brief glimpse of the lake ahead made the trip more bearable.

The Bible promises believers a home in heaven some day.  As followers of Jesus, the journey often seems endless, especially when we’re going through difficult days.  But every once in a while, God blesses us with a brief glimpse of the prize ahead.  We may hear or read about someone’s near-death experience, and their vision of heaven.  We may be privileged to be with a godly loved-one who is crossing over, and hear them talk about the departed family members who are welcoming them home. 

God gave John a glimpse of heaven, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.  His testimony serves as encouragement to Christians of every generation.  In it, he describes the city of God, the New Jerusalem:  “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. . . . Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse. . . . There will be no more night. ” Revelation 21:23-25; 22:1-3a, 5a (NIV)

No night, no darkness, no pain, no sorrow, no suffering, no disease, no curse, no sin.  Only the light of God’s glory.  Be encouraged, dear ones.  It won’t be long now.  Look ahead.  It’s just over the next hill.

Copyright 2012 – Mary Egidio   — Permission is granted to share this post, but only with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.