Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fear: The Dream Monster (and how to get rid of it)

"Portraits of White" Begins
At 7:00 p.m. on December 6, 2014 I stepped out onto the stage with complete peace and confidence.  I was in my sweet spot and my whole being felt it.

Conductor, Ed Kee, and I run through last minute details before the concert.
At 4:00 p.m. on December 6, 2014, I was sitting in the bathroom with a serious case of diarrhea.  I rarely get nervous before a concert, but this was not a normal concert.  This was the birth of a dream I had been carrying for years.  I was suddenly struck with paralyzing fear.  I had 2 hours worth of lyrics, music notes and stories to remember and though I had been preparing for this for over a year, I wondered if my brain and physical body would hold up now that the moment had come.

I have already heard from a few people who have been encouraged to step out and pursue their own 'inklings' (or fight to keep them in some cases) as a result of my own story Saturday night.  I thought it might be helpful for you to know that pursuing what's in your heart will usually mean fighting to the very end.  Even up until the moment you step out on to the stage.

I fought my worst battles with fear when I first started dreaming this dream and right before I finished the dream.  Don't get me wrong, there were certainly moments of doubt and fear all along the way, but the worst came a week before the concert.  

Here's some of the thoughts I had to fight:
  • You shouldn't be so honest in your stories - people will think you are weird - don't tell the truth. 
  •  No one else struggles like you do. Keep it to yourself. Play it safe.          
  • You can't do this.  It's going to bomb.                   
  • You've taken on something that is too big for you. 
  • What were you thinking?
  • It'll be just your luck that a big snow storm will come and ruin it all.  You've been set up and it's all going to fail.
A friend kept checking in on me all week and when I began to tell her of my terrible battles with fear (especially in the night time) she asked me to name some of my fears so she could pray specifically for me.  Even before I told her anything, she had been sending me e-mails and notes in the mail speaking truth to me and encouraging me.  I don't know if I could have made it through without her prayers and words of truth.

It became very apparent to me that "Portraits of White" was not just another concert just by the sheer magnitude of the monster that started to raise its ugly head at the last moment.  It's as if it took one last swing at me to try and make me run the other way. I'm so glad I didn't run.  

The best way to slay the 'dream monster' is to keep going.....right smack toward it.  You might want to gather a few friends along the way to help you.  When you really start pressing in to becoming who you were created to be the battle will get FIERCE at times.  Don't give up.  Don't back down.  Rally your friends. Pray like crazy and hang on.

When you finally step into your 'sweet spot' it will feel absolutely amazing and worth every battle. The best part is, you will take others along with you and soon a big army will arise.  An army of people wanting to step out and do bigger things.  Greater things.  Things that could potentially change the world.

As I said in my concert:  "I would rather die trying to thrive, than live having just survived".  If you live this way, you will surely encounter the dream monster.  But you'll never feel more alive when the battle is over.

A nice way to end an amazing evening.  My long time husband and supporter surprises me on stage.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Dream Coming True

If you have been following my blog, you already know that I have been planning to do a big Christmas concert this year.  The time is fast approaching and this week I sent out a press release to the local newspapers to announce the show.  I thought I would include this release as one of my blog entries.  It tells the story so well.

Whether December heralds a joyous or not-so-joyous holiday season, Frances Drost, singer, songwriter, and storyteller, invites you to join her and guest conductor, Ed Kee, to a one-night only concert, December 6.  Portraits of White: The doors open at 6:00 and the show starts at 7:00 pm, at the Rose Lehrman Arts Center, HACC Harrisburg’s Area Community College, One HACC Drive, Harrisburg, PA.

Frances writes mostly at the piano, with orchestration added later, to create scenes that are rich in story.  Take depression and loneliness, for instance, tough emotions especially during the “happiest time of the year” and Frances weaves story and music together, taking you with her on a journey back to the heart of Christmas. 
“There was a Christmas not too long ago when I found myself disliking almost everything about this holiday. I think there is something to be gained by looking at the conflicting emotions we feel.  What I do is give permission (to the people that need it) to stand up and say “I am not alone!”

“Behind the songs there are stories, which you don’t get on the CD, but I have seen how people connect to my stories so I expand on them in the concert.”

Based on the music of Portraits of White, her seventh CD project, released in December 2013, this concert is sure to delight the senses, with a live orchestra and multi-media production. The title track is music set to images onscreen featuring the beauty of snowy landscapes.

Frances’s music will warm and encourage you to take another look at your own relationship with Christmas.
Frances has been connecting with audiences both locally and across the U.S., for over a decade. Her commitment to traveling from her home in Newville PA to Nashville TN regularly to build her career has connected her to musicians that have helped shape the course of her life and music.  

Ed Kee, from Franklin, Tennessee, is one of those musicians. Frances is delighted that Ed accepted her invitation to be guest conductor for the Dec 6th concert. Ed has been a highly visible creative force on the Nashville music scene for over 30 years, where his music career finds him in such roles as studio singer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, record label executive and music publisher.  Frances and Ed have joined their professional skill and talents over the last year to bring about this one-night musical journey on December 6th.

Frances has held the dream of a concert like this for a long time, — in fact, since childhood.Portraits of White, the title track, sparkles with Frances’ childlike delight of a new snowfall. She vividly remembers the birth of this song in 2000:  driving through snow blowing like angel-hair across the road, to record Big Blue Sky, her very first CD project in 2000 in Chambersburg, PA. 

It has taken 14 years for Portraits of White, the song, to find its way to its own CD project and finally now, to a bigger stage and live orchestra - it is a dream come true for the little girl who loved snow, ice skating on her farm pond to music and putting on ‘shows’.  After all, there was a time when she loved the holidays, so it’s not all sad and she has found a way to laugh at herself and bring others with her in the laughter.

Frances was the winner of the Momentum Award for “Female Artist Of The Year” and was also nominated for “Inspirational Artist Of The Year” at the 2009 Momentum Awards ceremony in Nashville.

So get your tickets now (there aren't many left) - this is a one-night event that promises to be not just a concert, but an experience that Frances believes will impact how you feel about the holiday season.

Visit to get your tickets and more information about Portraits of White.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Afternoon Grief

Mother's memorial service display of flowers with our baby pictures.
The first Sunday without my mother was the day we celebrated her life with a memorial service.  I was surrounded by family and friends.  I was in a daze.  I felt fine.

The second Sunday without her I was so tired and numb from the array of emotions leading up to her death that I didn't feel much.  In fact, it was a rather normal day.

The third Sunday I was driving home from church and suddenly a wave of grief came over me as I realized that normally Tom and I would go and visit her in the evening.

We would not be visiting her anymore on Sundays.  Not any day of the week. She is really gone.

It was a very rough day.  I tried to nap but my puffy eyes wouldn't let me.  I didn't want to ride the motorcycle because my last memory of the motorcycle was trying to get home from our long trip on bikes in time to see her before she lost consciousness.

I cried most of the day. My sister called from Canada but between my own tears and a bad satellite connection, we were unable to talk long. How can it be so awkward, even with family?

There were some Sundays in the past that I would have rather stayed home to sleep or ride my motorcycle than go and visit.  Now I am free to do any of those and they aren't as appealing.  I miss her, I admit as I sit here wearing her blue gingham pajamas.

I can feel a growing apprehension of facing Sundays without her. I don't want to start a new pattern of dread in my life so I tried to approach this Sunday differently.  Knowing my husband had a meeting after church and I would go home to an empty house (which is very hard) I decided to see if a friend could have lunch with me.

I was nervous as I pulled into the restaurant parking lot.  Maybe this wasn't a good idea.  Grief can hit at the worst times and I prefer to be alone when it happens.  I wondered if I did the wrong thing by suggesting we meet.  But I am so glad I did. As she shared her own story of loss, we found similarities in our journeys. Both surprised that we shed very few tears at the funeral. The tears come before and after, but during....not so much.

I find this to be a tricky path.  My heart is full of emotions. I have a certain sense of composure that I want to maintain around the public. What's strange is that I want this composure even around my closest friends and family.  I don't want anyone to touch the faucet that controls the tears.  It makes everyone feel awkward if I cry so I don't want to talk because talking makes me cry.  It's not that I don't want to talk about her. Or about my feelings.  I just don't want to cry in front of you.

There are still so many more rivers to be released and once they start, they are hard to stop.  A few drops of rain are manageable.  A flood?  That's messy!

No one knows exactly how to handle their grief.  It's different for everyone.  There are days I want to be with people - it helps take my mind off of the loss.  There are other days when I want to be alone. I don't have anything to say.  I don't want to have to talk.  I just want to be quiet.

This stage is hard for friends.  It's awkward.  I get that.

Someone asked me today if I am attending a support group for grief.  I guess it hasn't crossed my mind too much.  I find support as I write out my thoughts.  There are so many of you that have walked a similar path and you've told me how much you relate to what I write. There is a sense of healing that comes every time I read your story, hear your path. Hear what you wear that belonged to your mother.

Just today, someone told me that they used to take Sunday afternoon drives with their mother.

Another used to go have dinner with their mother on Sundays.

Others tell of how hard it is to go home to an empty house when their spouse passes.  Especially Sunday after church.

Thanks to the friends who wait patiently for us until we figure out what it is we need. Sometimes we just don't know what we need or we are too afraid of uncontrollable emotions if we open our mouth to say what we need.

It's Sunday afternoon again.
I had lunch with a friend.
Tried to sleep.
Went for a long walk.
Remembered the friend who told me today that her mother died a year ago.  Her husband passed away 8 months ago. She found a part time job to help her face the grief and the lonely house.  It's helping.  But of course, she said it with tears in her eyes.

I understood. It's that 'Sunday afternoon grief' that comes any day of the week.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Window of Grief

'Lil Moe was rescued from the side of the road over a month ago and though I found a home for her, I am currently kitten-sitting while her new family is hiking the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  We both stare out the window.
I should be working on my christmas concert.  Instead, I'd rather just sit and stare out the window. Truth is, I AM staring out a window - it goes with me everywhere I go.

It's funny how everyday things look different when you view them from the window of grief.  Simple things make you cry.  You brace yourself for those moments but alas they don't happen when you think they should. Then, suddenly, without warning the strangest things bring you to tears and usually at inconvenient times.

I learned what grief feels like when my father died so I am better prepared for this season of my mother's passing and am less concerned about those unexpected 'grief moments'.  In fact, when they come, I try not to fight them.  They are different than the ever-present compression in your chest that makes it hard to breathe.  They come and go.

Today has been full of them.
  • A friend invites us to the beach over Thanksgiving......I realize my mother won't be here - it feels cruel to go without her, yet staying home doesn't make sense either
  • I arrive on the campus of Messiah College today for a speaking engagement.....Messiah College is rich with family history
    • my mother fell in love with her first husband here when she was 14  
    • she later returned as a widow to work for the Dean of Students
    • she fell in love a second time and met my father here and re-married
    • my father was a professor here later when my older brother Nathan drowned in our farm pond (my father had been at Bucknell University that day to look at their new science building as Messiah was considering a new science building too)  
    • mother called the college that day to ask them to get a message to Orville saying he should come straight home when he arrived back at the school....(this was before the days of cell phones)..she didn't want him to find out over the phone that Nathan was gone
  • today I spoke to Administrative Assistants in the very same room where my mother and I enjoyed a delicious lunch together a few years ago with classmates of her's from the 40's as my father was honored with a scholarship in his name at the college - she enjoyed being with them and hearing stories about Orville from his college days - it was meaningful for both of us - now I am here without her
  • as I drove to the college, I tried to rehearse my christmas concert in the van, but the songs only evoked tears - it's going to be interesting to do holiday music when the holidays are such a potent time of year when you've lost your loved one
All this was happening in my heart as I walked the campus and spoke to the diverse group gathered for a special luncheon.  However, there were no tears.  Only the deep compression in my soul.

Last night, there were tears.  We had just finished rehearsing "All To Jesus I Surrender" as a worship team and suddenly, out of nowhere they came.  I think it was the combination of beautiful acoustic guitar and piano bursting into spontaneous praise without any voices and the refreshment of doing an 'old song' that my mother would have loved.

There will be times in the season of grief when you will view everything through the window of losing your loved one. When that happens, open the window wide and let the memories (and tears) pour forth.  It is a healing balm and lets the sunshine back in....even if it takes years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Five Yellow Roses

These are the 5 roses we gave to our mother before we put her body in the ground.

This morning at 6:55 a.m., my mother, Bertha Mae Sollenberger Heisey went home to be with Jesus.

Tomorrow we will lay her body in the ground.

Tonight I sit on my bed, under my warm blanket with my kitty at my feet and a candle burning on my dresser.  I haven't wanted to write anything, anywhere for the past six days.  Until now.

I feel a huge sense of closure about to take place that I never saw coming until we came home from the funeral home this afternoon and realized a significant event is taking place tomorrow.  It's suddenly not just about burying my mother but it's also about saying goodbye to the woman tied to decades of memories about two brothers who have been gone for over 40 years but are very much present in our memories and family stories.  Nathan was only 2 when he drowned and Doug was 26 when he was killed in a tractor accident.

I was hit with a wall of tears tonight after returning from the funeral home this afternoon where we ordered five yellow roses for the private burial tomorrow.  She loved yellow flowers.

You see, tomorrow at her graveside at 1:00 p.m., we will arrive and receive the five yellow roses. One for each child she bore. No large spread of flowers on a fancy casket, just a very plain wooden one made of pine and five long-stemmed roses.  At first we ordered three. One for my brother, my sister and myself to place on this special box that holds my mother who once held us.  Almost simultaneously we all realized that we needed five.  Doug and Nathan are as much a part of us as they ever were, especially at this time.  As soon as we lost our mother, they gained one back.

I have detached myself from everything since arriving home from a motorcycle trip that we cut short when she had an emergency surgery a week ago so that I could sit by her side until she departed and I am so glad I did.  This morning when I got the text from my sister that she had passed, the tears ran freely but the peace I had deep inside far surpassed the tears.  We have prayed for this day for so long that I felt a refreshing sense of peace and relief that she finally got her wish.

Day after day I have arrived in the morning (my siblings taking the night watch) and just sat with her most of the day.  It was as if I was able to just 'be'.  The next few days are going to be very busy and I knew they would be.  Until she was actually gone, I wanted to spend these last few days just soaking in what it feels like to be present with her even when she seemed to lose consciousness.

I was not with her when she actually passed, but I was at peace with that, knowing it might happen that way.  My sister got that special privilege and I was so glad.

I didn't know how significant the decision to get 5 yellow roses would impact me until we got home from the funeral home and I burst into tears.  I was too young to remember any of the funerals and burials of my two brothers but their loss has had a huge impact on my soul over the years as I would listen to the stories of their deaths over and over and over....and over.  It's as if I wasn't able to experience something that has had such an impact on my mother's life and mine, but from a distance.

I suddenly realized as I spoke it all out loud to my siblings that somehow I feel like this is a very significant passing.  My mother, the one who told the stories is now gone.  With her go the details and potent feelings.  Though I have plenty of my own feelings about it all, they were always attached to her.  It feels like such a closing of a chapter.  A book. One that I now realize I have needed.

Tomorrow I will get to see five yellow roses offered to my mother who gave birth and life to five of us and had to let go of two of us much earlier than any mother ever should.  It's one of the reasons she has wanted to die.  She has walked through much pain here on earth and was ready to be released from it all.  I don't blame her.  She is now free.  Doug's wife and one of his daughters will be present to place the rose in his memory.  I don't know yet how we will release Nathan's rose but I'm so glad we decided on five, not three.

There are two boys that I know must be really glad to see you Mother and three children left who will really miss you.  Thus, the five yellow roses.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The power of washing feet.

Mother and I in our old farm kitchen...1970's??
Mother and I July of 2014

In many ways my mother and I are about as different as night and day. I'm thankful for these later years together because it has given me a chance to discover many similarities I didn't know we had.

The pictures make a good visual of how our lives have changed over the years.  Here are just a few of our differences:

She had five children.  I have none.
She loved being a mother.  I'll never know what that feels like biologically.
She loved to cook.  I don't like to cook, but I do because she showed me by example.
I have chosen a career in music.  She doesn't relate to that kind of life at all.
I ride a motorcycle.  She doesn't like that so much but tries to smile about it.
She still wears a prayer covering.  I don't...but I still pray.

And the list goes on.  But you get the idea.

To be completely honest, through the years this has created some tension.  And that's putting it mildly. Learning how to be a good daughter when there are so many differences created its challenges.

There's an old tradition we used to practice in the church background I come from.  It's called 'foot-washing'.  I remember when we would sit very reverently in the church pews, men in one room and women in another.  It was a very sacred event and one that I treasure.

With white towel-like aprons, tubs of bleach and hot water...well, semi-hot water, you would kneel in front of the person next to you, take one foot in your hand and gently scoop the water up over it. Then the other foot.  Next you would hold one foot in your hand on your lap and dry it with your towel. When you were finished both parties would stand and embrace as a sign of unity.

It wasn't so much about getting feet clean as it was letting them know that you cared about them. You humbled yourself in front of them to honor them.  It was hard to do this with someone you were angry with but that was kind of the point.  The room was filled with the smell of bleach and the sound of beautiful harmonies as we sang familiar songs together without any instruments.

I have often compared these last few years with my mother to those early years of childhood when I learned to wash the feet of other sisters.  It's not that I sit and wash my mother's feet, though I have certainly helped her shower, etc.  I trim her nails, tuck her in bed, comb her hair, hold her hand.

But it's more about the position she has been forced into by losing her sense of independence and my willingness to set aside our differences and serve her. It's not easy for these precious elders to let go of all that they know and become so dependent on others.  I cry often for them.  For her.

But what seems to happen in the process, at least in my case, is a gentle breaking down of walls between us.  Just these physical acts alone seem to bring about a deeper love and respect toward each other.

So many times on facebook when I post something I've done with my mother, people comment as to what a wonderful daughter I am.  I sigh and shake my head. I don't feel like one.  I just want you to know that it has not been perfect for us.  I hope this helps other daughters who have struggled in the past with their mothers.  Hang in there.  You might not need to 'wash her feet' per se, but welcome any kind of act you can do toward her to embrace humility and extend honor.  You'll be surprised what can happen in your own heart.

We don't practice foot-washing anymore in most communities of faith and I feel sad that we don't. But I get to practice humility and gentle acts of love every week for my mother and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Grape Pie

One day after announcing on facebook that I was making a grape pie, I was shocked by how many people had never heard of grape pie and wondered what it was. I smirkishly told them that it was made of grapes.  (hee hee).

My mother was a fabulous pie maker.  My favorite pie of her's was lemon meringue - with more lemon than meringue.

But when she decided to make a grape pie not too many years ago, I was intrigued to try this 'grape' pie she raved about.  Made with concord grapes, it turned out she was right and it has become my favorite fruit pie.

However, I was not prepared for the high price of concord grapes that appeared in our little hometown grocery store around September only.  I realized that this pie was not only amazing, but very costly.

Being the frugal, homegrown farm girl that I am, I decided to plant my own concord grapes so that someday I could have my own grapes for lots of pies.  I had no idea how many years it would take before I had enough grapes to feed a mouse, let alone make a pie.   My husband has tended the vine carefully for years and some years we complained that it wasn't producing and concluded that it was a waste to plant the crazy thing.

Today I harvested not only enough grapes to make 1 pie, but 2 pies and some homemade grape juice.

When I was first married, I was determined to become a good pie maker because my groom really likes fruit pies.  No problem, right?  How hard could it be to make a pie?  My mother did it all the time.

Let's just say that Tom soon learned to stay out of the kitchen when I was making a pie.  Such a gift of love I was working on - complete with thoughts of 'doing him in' with the rolling pin if he didn't leave me alone.  It's not the filling that's hard, it's the flaky pie crust that melts in your mouth that's difficult and that's what I was after.

I would get so angry at the pie dough, the board, the rolling pin and anything else in the room when the dough would stick to the pin, or the board, or worse yet, not be big enough to fit the pie plate.  Did I mention that Tom would pop into the kitchen right in the midst of this tsunami-like flood of emotions and ask a simple "why are you doing it THAT way?".   That's when he learned to stay out of the kitchen.

These days I have a much easier time making the pie because I found a great crust recipe so it's not really an issue anymore.  Of course, the fresh 'hand-picked grape' pie that's in the oven right now gave me a fit as I was rolling out the dough. (I think it knew I was cooking up a blog about it).  You'll see in the pic below that I had to improvise with the top of the crust because there wasn't quite enough dough......proof that the pie knew what I was up to and decided to rebel.  I'll eat it anyway!

I took pictures so you can see that this is not an easy process. But boy oh boy, is it ever worth all this work when I sit down and bite into the sweet-tart taste of the grapes and the pie crust that melts in my mouth. Hallelujah!!!

It will be extra special because they are my own grapes that we've worked hard to nurture all these years.

It will be extra special because I made the pie from the cookbook that my mother gave me at Christmas time in 1984.  On the inside of the book, she wrote:

                                                       Christmas 1984
To Frances
     From Mother

It will be extra special because I will never make or eat a grape pie again without thinking of my mother who nurtured me so tenderly for many years without seemingly much fruit.  I remember the story of the day she "turned me over to the Lord" because she no longer knew what to do with my habit of back-talking her.

Recently, I learned that the nursing center where she lives feels that she is steadily declining and told me we need to make some end of life decisions.  I realize that time is short and I don't know how long I'll have to be with her. To remind her of the pies she used to make and so many other special things she did for us.  I have observed this decline every time I'm with her so it wasn't news to me and I am preparing my heart.

This grape pie was a lot of work, not just today but over the years.  It's been years in process, but it will be worth the effort.

Anything in life THIS good is not without a lot of effort.

What a nice reward to have Tom walk in the kitchen just now and see my fresh pie and say
"wow - look at THAT pie - now that's a pie worth taking a picture of".  
He has redeemed himself.