Saturday, December 15, 2018

Giving the World a Holiday!


Every year, as I prepare for Portraits of White, I'm always amazed by the new theme that emerges. Certain song lyrics call out to me and say, "this is why you are doing the show".  This year the phrase is; "give the world a holiday that's bright as can be". That's what I plan to do with the concert this weekend. 

It's a crazy, busy world out there and as we get closer to Christmas we all long for a chance to take a deep breath to gear up for the day that is meant to bring joy. But for many people Christmas Day feels pretty empty and lonely. Many folks just "try to make it through" to the New Year. We plan to give folks the breather they are longing for with lots of great music, laughs and even lights, to brighten up the world here in South Central Pennsylvania.

Friday morning I went over to the venue early in the morning to go through the whole concert without all the other players, fancy lights and pretty dresses. I don't know how to turn on the lights in this big auditorium, so I figured I could just walk slowly and let my eyes adjust to the darkness.  I made my way to the platform, in the dark, down the center aisle, up the steep steps to the stage and shuffled across the stage (arms extended to buffer myself from objects) toward the grand piano hoping there weren't any mic stands or monitors that were repositioned after rehearsal the night before.

I made it safely to the piano and decided I'd practice the whole show from that stationary position. No need to be walking around in the dark more than necessary. I turned on the little stand lights at the piano and that was all I needed to get started with the show. I couldn't see a thing except for the piano keys and all the EXIT signs in the room. At least I know where the exits are, even if I can't see how to get to them.

The strangest thing happened though. The longer I played the piano and told my stories to the empty room, the more my eyes adjusted to the dark. In fact, I became so used to the dark that within twenty minutes or so, I could see the stage and felt confident enough to actually walk around. It's always good to take some time getting used to the layout of the stage where you're giving a concert. It's like familiarizing yourself with all the controls in a rental car. It makes the trip a lot more relaxing if you "know" where everything is. I went from shuffling around on stage to actually feeling quite comfortable and confident in the dark.

An hour or two into my rehearsal the facility manager arrived and asked if I wanted some lights on. I was so used to the dark that I declined. I kind of like the solitude and quiet before the BIG weekend. I don't know why a dark room feels more quiet, but it just does. 

As I stood on the stage looking out over the empty seats, I couldn't help but wonder how many times I've allowed myself to "get used to living in the dark" when it comes to some areas of my life. The things is, in the darkness, objects that could be useful to me actually pose as a threat because I don't bother to turn on the lights or allow someone else to turn the lights on for me. In fact, in the dark, everything can be dangerous. But if you sit there long enough, you'll get used to the dark and think it's normal.

I believe that we've created something special with Portraits of White—and I say "we" because there is a whole team behind this extravagant concert experience. People still say, "It's YOUR show"—meaning, do what YOU want, but there are so many people who have come alongside me to make this dream come true and so I no longer see it as "my show". We plan to really give the world a holiday that's bright as can be, especially for those who might have become accustomed to sitting in the dark.

For tickets to see Portraits of White, click HERE!


Thursday, November 29, 2018

When I Pray.


When I pray...

I cast my
  • cares 
  • worries
  • anxieties
on God.

I discuss
  • my thoughts
  • what's bugging me
  • the details and to-do lists of my day
with God.

I confess
  • my failings
  • my bad attitudes
  • my fears
to God.

I listen for
  • His thoughts
  • His ways
  • His comfort

But when I get up from the couch, the real test lies in how deeply I will TRUST Him after all that we just shared together.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Just Start.

Bulls Head Road—near my house.
It was Monday and I didn't want to go for my daily bike ride. This was a bit unusual since I've come to really enjoy riding my bicycle this summer. The ever-changing landscape and activity of local farms on the little country roads have been an inspiration to me. They fill up my senses—to borrow the lyrics of John Denver, who got the inspiration from riding the ski slopes of Aspen, Colorado. I can totally identify with how nature inspired him to write.

I feel rejuvenated, inspired and creative when I return from my fifteen to twenty mile ride. My body and my mind both benefit from routine exercise.

These are some of the way rigorous exercise helps me prepare for the upcoming Portraits of White Christmas concert:
  • Gives better focus when I practice.
  • I can remember lyrics more easily.
  • I think more creatively about the content of the show.
  • I just feel better, period.
Yet, as the season changes (both the weather and my schedule), I have to talk myself into it somedays. It becomes the most busy time of year and I struggle to keep up with it. The very thing I need the most seems to easily fall by the wayside. Isn't that the way it always is?

You might relate to some of the arguments I have within myself:
  • Maybe you need a break (but you just had a day of rest on Sunday).
  • Just take a nap instead (you don't feel the need to nap when you exercise).
  • You can ride another day when you feel like it (but who is to say you'll feel like it tomorrow).
  • Missing one day won't hurt (true, but it's easy to miss a second day when you've missed the first day).
  • You have too much to do (you'll always have too much to do!).
I've learned two small words that have helped me in just about every facet of life—even exercise.

JUST START.

So in spite of my lethargic self, I hopped on my bike, dressed for the cold windy weather and braved the elements. I had only been riding a minute or two when I remembered why I love this. It's like someone hooks up an IV to my brain and creativity begins to flow. By the time I'm home, I've made a hundred more plans!

As I braved the wind on the back roads, I suddenly came upon a most breathtaking sight; not one rainbow, but two! Look what I would have missed if I had given in to the temptation to stay home.

Beautiful view only miles from my home.
So just in case you're like me and you need a little help—remember these two words: "JUST START". Once you start, the inspiration and motivation usually follow.

What do you want to accomplish these days? Here's a few steps that usually help me:

1) Write down what you want to accomplish.

2) Set a start date or daily appointment.

3) Set a deadline/goal for yourself.

4) Keep a daily log of what you did.

5) Celebrate your accomplishments!




Thursday, October 25, 2018

Left Behind. (From Nancy Crider Singer in memory of Paul Douglas Crider).

If there's anything I've come to appreciate through all the loss of life in our family, it's the art of learning to celebrate those who remain behind. It can be easy to focus on who we've lost and stay stuck in that grief. But there is so much living to do with those who remain.

As I wrap up this series of blog posts surrounding some the stories of our family's loss, I'm delighted to share one last post from another one of our family members.  Nancy Singer Crider shares what it's been like to be a single mother, after losing her husband (and my brother) Doug. As Doug's family continues to grow, it's a blessing to watch the impact of a life lived well during the brief 26 years he lived.

From Nancy Singer Crider:
In memory of Paul Douglas Crider
"It is bitter sweet to look back 49 years to October 11, 1969 as Doug and I joined together in marriage expecting to share a lifetime together.  I could not have anticipated that 3 years and 9 months later, we would be left behind and he would be present with the Lord. My daughters and I experienced a huge loss to our family.  
There were times when I felt so alone trying to be a single mother, feeling the heavy weight of raising two daughters with two very different personalities.  I felt so inadequate being responsible for guiding these two little lives through life.  
Even though I made lots of mistakes, it was good to know that Christ surrounded us with His love and grace.  I trusted Him to be the strength for us through the good and bad times. Through the love and grace of God, I am learning to rely on Him for strength in life's situations.  
After Doug passed, I built my life around my children.  I sometimes felt they were all I had.  I watched them grow and learn as we tried to learn together to seek God (not always successful - but progressing).  During these growing pains, I sometimes wondered what life would have been like if Doug had lived.  

He had begun to give sermons at Jemison Valley where we attended church.  It was suggested he apply for a lay minister’s license which he received shortly before his death.  He preached his first sermon as a licensed minister and was scheduled to preached again at another church close to where we lived.  However, the accident that took his life was the week after his first sermon.   For a young man at the age of 26 to die spoke volumes to the community. 
As Crystal and Kelly married and started their homes and families, I was blessed with 8 grandchildren around whom I began to build my life also.  They were such a blessing and they loved to spend time at “Mimi’s” house. They would spend time in my basement playing guitars, singing and making videos.  It was such a wonderful time together.  However, they continued to mature.  Then, Derek, one of the grandsons got married.  I was blessed with two great grandsons. 
In more recent years, I had an opportunity to go to Guatemala on a mission trip.  During the first trip, I did some soul searching and discovered a new life in Christ as I surrendered to the filling of the Holy Spirit.  What a change occurred on my life.  I received new guidance on how to seek God in all situations.  
I decided to spend a week at my timeshare (alone) seeking release from concerns related to my family. I seemed to be in bondage. As I laid my concerns before the Lord, he very clearly spoke to my heart as he said, “Give them to me. I will take care of them."  
Wow!  I wrote the names of my children, their spouses, and all my grandchildren and lifted them toward heaven and laid them before the Lord.  I must confess, there are times I take them back and then give them back to Him.  I sometimes wondered if their Daddy/Grandpa was before the throne asking for mercy, grace and wholeness for his family.  I have seen changes in some of their lives since I gave my family to the One who can do all things.
Even through the years without Doug’s presence, I have a feeling he was praying for all his family as we sometimes struggled through life, seeking to follow God - knowing what the final result will be.  To be able to join with Doug and other family members who have gone before us, but to ultimately meet our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and worship Him forever."

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Sidewalk.

"What children are exposed to, hear, and see when they are young goes deep. It enters their soft hearts, and it stays there. What happens to them and around them during their formative years affects them for the rest of their lives.

Imagine this supernatural window of time early in life when our spirits are so impressionable as the constructing of a sidewalk. Once the liquid mixture has been poured, you have a very limited amount of time to imprint anything on the cement. However, if you can draw your initials in the concrete before it hardens, it is permanently etched forever. Whatever else makes contact with that cement later on does not have the same impact or long-standing effect as those original markings." —Charity Virkler Kayembe

I've spent most of the summer sharing part of my family's story with you. This past week we passed the 52 year mark of Nathan's tragic death, October 11, 1966. As the author, Charity, stated above, the imprints placed on our hearts as children are permanently etched forever. Fortunately, sidewalks also offer a path to other places if you follow them and so it has been with my own heart. Yes, losing our brothers, Nathan and Doug have certainly left their marks, but as I've paid attention to the imprints in the sidewalk, it has brought healing, understanding and growth. So I keep moving forward with full awareness of the path behind me.

I think this past summer was the right season to go back to the farm where the concrete began to "set" and capture the song that has become a foundation stone in my life and songwriting. I see things from a new perspective.

Please feel free to share this with your family and friends, especially those who have lost loved ones. I think they will understand.

Click HERE to view the music video to Beside the Barn.





Friday, October 5, 2018

"Walking Down the Aisle Without My Daddy." (From Crystal Crider Dailey in memory of P. Douglas Crider).

This morning, I read this verse and it brought me comfort as I thought about what today's post was going be.


"The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die." 
—Psalm 116:15


In last week's blog post, we heard from Kelly, my youngest niece and daughter of my brother, Doug and what it's been like to live without her Father. This week, Doug's oldest daughter, Crystal, shares what life has been like for her without her Daddy. Each offer unique perspectives, just as it is with any family who has suffered loss. Each member processes the loss differently and according to the verse above even the Lord cares deeply about the death of loved ones.


From Crystal Crider Dailey—
"When I think about what it was like to have lost my Dad at such a young age, many thoughts and emotions run through my mind.
As a little girl, I do not recall really being affected by the fact that I did not have a dad, because that was the life I knew. It was my normal!  I did not remember him at all, so for me there was no feeling of loss.  Looking back now, I am able to see that I had some resentment over the fact that because I had a single mom, she had to work— sometimes two and three jobs, to support us, while other moms stayed at home.  
Once I became an adult, it started to affect me more. I did not get to have my Daddy walk me down the aisle and I never got to dance the father/daughter dance at my wedding—you know, the things that little girls dream of. Then as I started having children, there was the sadness that he never got to hold his grandchildren and they did not get to have a grandpa. 
I have often thought that not remembering my Dad was better than having known him and losing him but I am no longer sure I feel that way. I am sad that I have no memories. I listen to people around me talk about their dads, and feel lost because I cannot relate. There are moments when friends have lost their dad recently, or their dad is sick, and they are rightfully upset, but I want to say, “At least you knew him! You have memories! You got to know what it was like to be hugged by your Daddy, to have a life with him!” 
When I run into people that knew my Daddy, they share stories and tell me what a great man he was and I wish that I had gotten to know him. Why did God take him when he was so young?
There were many times that I would be on stage singing and imagine that he walked in the back of the auditorium and that he had never died at all! Sometimes I would be out somewhere and see a man that might be the age he would be now and think that he looked like my daddy might look today and wonder if it was, in fact him. Of course, I knew that was crazy! So many times I had wished it were true, but then how would I deal with the fact that he left us? 
The last several years, I have desperately wished that he were here. I have gone through some very difficult things in my life and longed to have my Daddy be here to guide me and help me. It is hard to long for something that can never be. Loss is hard! But in the middle of all of it, God is so good! I had an amazing Mom who was not only a Godly example, but she braved single motherhood and taught me how be strong in hard times. Now that I am a single mother, that has helped me have the hope that I can be strong and that I will survive. 
I do think that you never get over a loss of a parent, whether you have memories or not. But I do know that my heavenly Father is all I need and I believe that my Daddy is looking down on me and my little family and I pray that I have made him proud!"

Thank you, Crystal. I'm so glad you are a part of our family and I think Doug would be proud of ALL of his family!

(If you haven't read the post about how Doug Crider died, you can read it here.)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

No Kid-sized Sadness. (A tribute to Doug Crider from his daughter, Kelly Joe Crider Albert).


I recently read a paragraph that resonated deeply with me. It helps me understand that even when a child experiences loss, we should never underestimate the effect it is having on them. I can't say it better than this, so I'll just share the paragraph here:

It helps to understand that emotions are basically one size. 
Love is massive. 
Fear is huge. 
And when you take these large emotions and put them inside tiny people, they overflow easily. There is no "kid-sized" sadness. They experience it just as fully as adults do, and without us encouraging them to pray through the feeling, they can easily be overwhelmed by itCharity Virkler Kayembe

This was certainly true of me, as it became evident in my songwriting years later. I processed the grief of losing my brothers, Nathan and Doug through my writing. I know it's also been true for Doug's youngest daughter, Kelly, my niece. Many people say that Kelly and I look alike and we know from spending time together that we certainly act and think alike too! 

Kelly has so beautifully shared her experience with losing her Daddy in her own words....

From Kelly Crider Albert:


"My father’s death has had a big impact on my life. 

Growing up I wanted to have a dad that threw ball with me outside, to help me with the sports that I loved so much. There was always a hole that seemed never to be able to be filled. I really had a hard time being around other people that had fathers that did things with their daughters. I didn’t understand why I felt these feelings till I was older and realized that I needed to mourn the loss of my dad. 

I had the opportunity several years ago to return to the farm where my father was killed. Even though I had grown up for the first six and three-quarter years up there and would visit the family at the farm many times, I never realized then that it was where my father had died. This was a very hard and good experience all at the same time. 

I remember just standing there staring at the place where it happened while Steve (son of the farm owner at the time of the accident) told how it happened. Then Steve put his arm around me like a protective big brother and I broke. I don’t ever remember crying so hard in my life. I do believe that was very good for me to get out though. 

The rest of the family was very willing to answer any questions that Crystal and I had about our dad that day as well. This was very hard for them since it is still very painful for them as well. I hope they realize what a gift they gave me that day though. 

Denny and Kelly (Crider) Albert family.

I love to run into people that knew my dad and hear stories about him. But that can also be bitter sweet for me because it is very clear that I missed out on a great man in my life. I would have loved for him to know my husband, our children and now my grandchild. I love to hear that my sons and my grandson look like him." 


Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your heart with us here.

You are loved and valued,

Aunt Francie

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Family Puzzle. (In Memory of Douglas Paul Crider).

Tom and I used to put puzzles together. I suppose we will again someday when we have lots of free time on our hands. One thing you can always count on, even if some of the pieces somehow disappear, is the picture on the box. It lets you know what the completed puzzle should look like. We would often look at the box to make sure we understood where all the pieces went.

In the case of our family, we've lost a few pieces of our puzzle, but pictures are such a beautiful way to help us remember what the original puzzle was and where the pieces go.

I was only seven years old when another piece of our family puzzle disappeared. In my mind, the picture on the top of this puzzle box is one of our family gathered on the front porch of our farm house in Newville, PA. The Pastor had come to bring us news of the death of my oldest brother, Doug. Another piece missing.

Douglas Paul Crider
Doug had served a couple of years in Africa and I remember Mother telling me that the day he left on the ship for Africa, she promised herself that she wouldn't cry. Apparently she didn't keep her promise to herself. It must have taken a lot of courage to watch your son board a ship taking him across the water in those days.

Doug was serving in Africa when Nathan drowned and he was not able to be present for Nathan's funeral. Mother said he took that very hard.

But now, Doug had returned home and married a young woman from the community. Nancy Singer joined our family and later gave birth to two young children; Crystal and Kelly. They had settled into a community in northern Pennsylvania, where he worked for a farmer.

Douglas and Nancy.
One morning, on the farm where he worked, he took a tractor and wagon out into a field to pick up rocks, put them in the wagon and then back up to dump them over a cliff into a dried up river bed below. When they found him, he was crushed beneath the tractor and wagon, at the bottom of the cliff in the river bed. He was so badly bruised that they had a closed casket at his funeral. I know this made the pain even more excruciating for my Mother and for Nancy.

Doug and Nancy's daughters; Kelly and Crystal, at the graveside.
Doug's death came sandwiched in between the tragic death of Nathan (Mother's two year old son) and all the struggles she had been having with meningitis. With a shunt that seemed to malfunction frequently, I cannot fathom receiving news that your first-born son was found dead on a farm in a distant place.

A year later, her father died of an internal bleeding ulcer. She also had another surge of health issues once again related to the malfunction of the shunt in her head. These years are a blur in my mind and as I write this, I realize that there is probably a reason. It's a lot for a little farm family to handle.

July is quite a month in our family history and so were the 1970's.

July 7, 1947 - death of Paul Crider (Bertha's first husband)

July 18, 1970 - birth of Crystal Crider (daughter of Doug Crider)
July 11, 1973 - death of Doug Crider (Bertha's son to Paul)
October 1, 1974 - death of Avery Sollenberger (Bertha's father)
July 21, 1976 - death of Frances Wingert Sollenberger (mother of Bertha)

July 4, 1990 - death of Chester Sollenberger (Bertha's brother)
July 14, 1997 - birth of Tia Marie Albert (daughter of Kelly Crider Albert) (granddaughter of Doug Crider)

A few years ago, I was scheduled to do a concert at a little church called Jemison Valley Brethren in Christ in Northern Pennsylvania. A few weeks before the concert, I got an email out of the blue from the secretary of the church. She explained that she was looking forward to the concert and wanted to extend an invitation to breakfast at their farm the morning after my concert. She explained that they live on the farm where my brother died and didn't know if I might appreciate an opportunity to visit the site where Doug died.

I couldn't believe what I was reading. I had no idea (or at least had forgotten) that this little church was located in the community where Doug had lived and died.  We often visited his grave in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but I never really knew exactly where he had lived and died.

I was intrigued and immediately took them up on their offer. We had a lovely breakfast together as they tearfully shared the details of that fateful day back in 1973. It was obvious that they still grieved about the whole thing. But our family has never been one to blame other people for these tragedies. I'm so grateful for that legacy! I'm not saying there weren't any struggles, I just never saw any hint of a root of bitterness over these two tragic deaths.

As we drove out through the snowy field and approached the site, I pondered the way our paths had connected without me ever trying to make it happen. My own musical journey was now leading me back to a place that had once again had a major impact on our family—around the theme of death.

When I mentioned this opportunity to my Mother, she replied, in a very sad tone, "I have no desire to see that place." On another day, when I tried to convince her to fly out to New Mexico to see her only living son before she'd be too fragile to travel, she simply said, "I have had enough terror in my life. I don't need anymore." I never brought it up again.

The effects of Doug's death in my own life were softened by the family he left behind. His little girls, Crystal and Kelly, (my nieces) became like little sisters to me, since they are only a few years younger than me. They'd share my double bed with me when they spent time on our farm in the summer. We'd read Winnie the Pooh stories and giggle in our crowded bed. We'd eat home-made ice cream with our own home-grown honey on top. We played house together. I'd play the piano and they would dance in the living room to the music.


They filled a huge hole in my heart and somehow, their presence made Doug feel like he was still here. I know that they experienced his death much differently—after all, he was their Father!

He would be proud of the family that continues to grow all these years after his death. In fact, he is a Grandfather to eight grandchildren and a Great Grandpa to two darling little boys. Tom and I spend many holidays playing the latest table games with this precious family. It keeps the memory of Doug very alive in my heart. Sometimes, I encounter others who tell me they knew Doug and they begin to tell me stories. I eagerly listen.

I resonated with something Amy Grant wrote in her book, Mosaic;

"I enjoy any passing conversation that starts with, "You don't know me, but I knew your....," because even if you've lived in she same place most of your life, sometimes it takes a total stranger to fill in the missing pieces of your family puzzle."




Friday, September 14, 2018

What Kind of Yeast is Raising Your Dough?

My Mother and her delicious bread!
"Enthusiasm is the yeast that raises the dough." —Paul J. Meyer

My Mother made the best homemade bread. No bread machines at our house. SHE was the machine. I don't think she ever made a bad batch of bread. She taught me that one of the keys to good bread is adding the yeast at just the right time.

According to the dictionary, yeast is a microscopic fungus consisting of single oval cells that reproduce by budding, and are capable of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Sounds yummy, aye?! Yeast is a very important ingredient! It raises the dough, that makes the bread, that feeds others.

I never thought of yeast as "budding", but that's the word the dictionary used. When it comes to matters of the heart, thoughts and attitudes are like yeast. They "bud". They spread—they will affect every part of you.

"Jesus also used this illustration: 
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. 
Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, 
it permeated every part of the dough." 
(NLT) Matthew 13:33 

I had some small particles of yeast in my heart growing up. They grew slowly, spanning decades. They were probably there from birth but never showed themselves until the heat was turned up during my Mother's long illnesses caused by the shunt in her head. I tried my best to be a good daughter and take care of the home and cook good meals when she would get sick.

Sometimes my older sister, Aspen, would come home to help out. We were always so relieved to see her. However, I began to feel twinges of inadequacy when my sister would help us—as if I wasn't capable of caring for our Mother, especially when it came to cooking. My Mother seemed to prefer my older sister's cooking. The yeast of inadequacy began to raise my dough.

Now, just so you know, my sister never did anything to provoke or fuel those feelings. But the nature of her own ability to cook (and sew) like my Mother, simply pointed out in a quiet way that I was not "them". The truth is, I wasn't real good at cooking and I even hated cooking, but I still wanted to please my Mother.

My sister and I rarely ever fought—in fact, I don't remember any fights at all. I counted her as a friend and she was an amazing big sister (and still is)! So it was a confusing feeling to be jealous of my Mother's approval of my sister's abilities to swoop in and save the day. I guess I was just desperate enough for help that it never became an issue. I just tucked it away in my heart. I didn't like those particles of inadequacy or jealousy.

In later years, the ugly yeast particles began to bud. My Mother became concerned that I didn't know how to cook. I would assure her that she did a good job of modeling how to cook, but those conversations always left me feeling even more inadequate. If she doubted me, then I easily doubted myself.

I can laugh now when I think about it. The brand new me can look at this with maturity and acknowledge that my gifts lie elsewhere and that's okay. I could have saved myself some tension in our mother-daughter relationship if I would have ignored the negative whispers trying to tell me I wasn't "good enough".

One particular pattern that seemed to reinforce my lack of ability in the kitchen was the fact that I always managed to carve interesting shapes out of her loaves of bread. I didn't mean to. I just couldn't seem to cut a straight slice to save my life. One mis-shaped slice always leads to another...and another. Even if you cut one edge straight, each slice will have a crooked edge unless you can cut them both straight. I never could.

I couldn't even cut straight slices when she got an electric knife. Sigh.

But, just as there were specific moments that planted particles of negative yeast in my heart, I can also say that there have been some very specific moments when the Spirit spoke positive particles into my heart. I DO bake bread....I'm just a different kind of bread-baker.

One day, I was making pumpkin rolls and the batter was sticking to the cloth. I was extremely frustrated and wishing I was back in Germany leading worship. I had just returned from a week of incredible ministry in Germany and I had been serving in my sweet spot. Now, as the hot tears of frustration made their way down my face, I heard that whisper—"it's okay, Frances. I know what you love and I made you that way." The Holy Spirit, also known as the Comforter, Helper and Counselor had come to my rescue. My tears of frustration turned into tears of relief.

Isn't that the message we all want to know? That we ARE good enough? That our gifts are unique and it's okay?!

From that moment on, the tension with my Mother around the subject of cooking diminished. In fact, I began to be honest with her and tell her that I actually didn't like to cook instead of trying to lie to her and let her believe that I loved cooking. I think she probably knew anyway, but I didn't want her to know!

There was such freedom in the honesty. Once I got over my insecurity, I could actually have some fun conversations with her about food and ask her opinion on things. Before, I was too threatened to even talk about cooking around her.

I still can't cut a straight slice of bread, but at least I have healthier packs of yeast in my soul and my "dough" keeps on rising. As I share my music with others, I am offering the bread of life to them. It's just a different kind of bread.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Bellyaches, Headaches and Heartaches. (Those Faint Whispers - Part 2)

We probably all have times when we have disregarded wisdom calling out to us.

Jonah heard God asking him to go to Nineveh and he didn't want to go. He ended up in the belly of a whale. I wonder if he gave that whale a bellyache?

Bellyaches


I had a lot of bellyaches when I was growing up. Looking back, I must have internalized the stress our family experienced.

As I've reflected on this next season in my Mother's life, after the death of her son, Nathan, I am reminded that there is a cost when we don't follow our inner sense of direction. It can lead to a lot of bellyaches, headaches and heartaches.

She had started driving a school bus for extra income but she mentioned (in her own words) that when she started sensing that she was to give up driving the bus, she didn't want to and ignored the warning. Strangely, she got meningitis from a child on her bus not long after that warning.


Headaches


When she got the meningitis, they had to put a shunt in her head due to scar tissue build-up in her brain. My Mother struggled through many seasons of illness, caused by the malfunction of the shunt. We all struggled with her.

One time she was so sick we had a hospital bed brought in and placed in the living room of our farm house so she didn't have to climb steps. We could care for her more easily on the ground level. I'd wash the linens—sometimes several times a day because she would lose control of her bladder. Even worse, at times, she would seem to lose her mind.

One day she had hallucinations of my brother, Adriel, being dead and in heaven. This was scary, since it was her only living son that she was hallucinating about and not the two sons who really were dead.

There was one thing that always seemed constant through her illnesses; she craved a good old steak. Daddy would make her a steak no matter what time of day or night it was. We ran a beef farm so at least we had plenty of steaks on hand.

Once the Doctors discovered that the shunt in my Mother's head was clogged and needed replaced (or unclogged), she would recover rather quickly. However, the frequent episodes took a toll on her. Sometimes it seemed they would unclog the shunt and she'd still struggle, so then they would replace it. They had to shave her head every time they worked on the shunt. The head trauma also left her feeling depressed.

My Mother and her favorite dog, Angie. She often wore a handkerchief like this after they worked on her shunt.


Heartaches


We had a foster child living with us at the time and because of her illness, he was immediately removed from our home and she was never able to locate him after that. She was heart broken. Even in the last years of her life, she'd mention him and wonder what happened to him.


Green, Yellow or Red?


I had a teacher in Oklahoma who used to always say, "Feel for the green, yellow or red light when it comes to making decisions." If you are trying to get a sense of which way you should go, ask yourself if you feel a "green" light—a sense of yes, move ahead. Or do you sense a "yellow" light of caution—slow down and wait. There are times we will sense a strong "red" light—which means, STOP!

I remember a time when I ignored a whisper of warning. I was interested in a guy (long before I knew Tom) but I clearly felt the Spirit telling me to stay away—to STOP!

I didn't listen. I wish I would have.

It clouded how I viewed myself for years.


Grace, Forgiveness and Healing


Thank God for grace, forgiveness and healing, not just in that situation but in the life of our family too. We'll never know what we might have been spared if my Mother would have paid attention to the whispers of the Spirit. But it doesn't do any good to ponder the "what ifs" in life, at least, the ones we can't go back and change.

Years ago, after my first few trips to Nashville, I started asking God to move us to Nashville. I asked this for years and finally one morning, out of the blue, I heard Him say, "not yet." From then on, I had peace and I stopped asking. Then we entered the final phase of my Mother's life and I was so thankful that I was living close to her to help her as she prepared to finish up her time here on earth. I began to sense that part of the reason for "not yet" was so that I could be present with my Mother through those final years.


Those faint whispers are worth paying attention to!


No mother is perfect. No person is perfect.  I appreciate that my Mother was willing to share this part of her story with us. It's priceless. It lets me know that she was human. It reminds me to pay attention to those faint whispers. They come to us for a reason.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Long Walk.

It's a long walk up the lane to the home where it all happened. You can't see the pond or the house from the road which adds to the anticipation. 

"There be dogs here"—a nice weather-worn sign greets you at the entrance.

I drove up the long lane toward the house......gasping as I drove. It was as if the summer rains had made a lush garden of Eden right here in Gardners, Pennsylvania. 

No wonder my Mother fell in love with this place the instant she saw it and decided this was the place to raise her family over 50 years ago.


And then I saw the pond. The pond beside the barn. I just sat there in my van.

The present-day pond.

The pond in the 1960's.


I moved on, past the pond, heading toward the house and started looking for Matt and James who were scheduled to be there ahead of me scouting for the best places to shoot video. I hired them to help me tell this part of my family's story—a very sacred moment in our past. 

(I usually shoot video in Nashville, but since I really wanted to do this song back at the farm where it happened, I needed to find someone local. Matt graduated from the University of Valley Forge with a degree in video production. Filmmaking is his passion. I've already done one small project with him and really enjoyed working with him. It's special to think that I can have a part in making someone else's dreams come true.) 

They were already getting set up. 


The landscape around the house was breathtaking. I stood there for a moment taking it all in—the gurgling springs, the singing birds and the fragrance of bitter-sweet family stories lingering on the grounds.

I greeted Virginia, the owner. They purchased the farm from us in 1968 (two years after Nathan drowned). Our family has visited them since that purchase, so it was more like seeing an old friend than a stranger. 

We all share a love for this little place nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania.


Stella, the dog, was eager to welcome us! We tried to coax her into the video, but she was too camera shy. She didn't want to appear in something so personal without a hair and makeup artist.  😊  Believe me, I understood!


It's amazing to compare pictures from the past to the present. Though the barn is gone due to a fire, a shed still remains.  In the second picture, you'll see my sister, my Father and my Grandpa moving the family beekeeping operation from Ohio to Willow Springs Farm in 1964 when we moved there. Notice the 1956 Chevy in the background! 

Present-day shed.

I took my Mother back to the farm not too long before she passed away. She was showing signs of dementia and I wanted to see if she'd remember the farm...and the pond. When we first pulled up the driveway, she had no idea where we were and I knew that she was indeed losing her memory, because this place was her favorite spot on earth. I finally pointed out the pond and told her about Nathan.

"Oooooohhhhh my", she said.

Talk about an emotional moment!

Near the shed is the house where my Mother raised her little family—the yard where she put Nathan and me out to play that fateful afternoon. It's the house she entered for a moment to get something and came back out to find Nathan missing...


We began the video shoot by having me walk up the lane. The same long walk my Mother took when she found Nathan in the pond and tried to resuscitate him. 

They wanted to drive her back to the house...but she refused. She wanted to carry him in her arms. 

I barely began the story and the tears came in full force. I'm still reeling from the thought of what it must have been like for her that day. 


Notice the snowflake on my shirt in the above picture? 

The snowflake is a very special symbol to me. They say each snowflake has it's own unique pattern. Just like humans. No two people are alike and no journey through grief is alike. My Portraits of White winter concert is all about winter and snow, as well as Christmas. Many of the songs on the album stemmed from coming to terms with the loneliness and grief from the loss of our two brothers—especially over the holidays. It felt appropriate to wear this shirt for the video.


We found lots of beautiful spots to do the video. 

The swing under a big tree near the pond. 
Beside the pond. 
Walking up the lane. 
Sitting on the dock at the pond. 
On a bench by the pond. 

As we were wrapping things up, Katie, the daughter drove by the pond. She stopped and got out of the car. I thanked her for allowing us to come and do this on their property. 

She said, "My mother feels very sad about it." 

"It IS sad", I replied with misty eyes. 

(Her Father, William Daniels, died on this same farm two years ago. He and Virginia were getting into their car and he had a stroke right there in front of her. Stella, the dog, came and laid down on him until the ambulance came.) 

Katie and I embraced and cried. We didn't need words. It's the first time I ever met her but for a moment if felt as if no time had elapsed between the two deaths. We shared a common bond. We lost someone special on this beautiful place. 

She got back in her car and looked up at me as the tears flowed. "My Father loved this place", she said as she drove away—down the long lane.

So did my Mother, I thought to myself. 

As I drove away from the little garden of Eden, I knew that this was the right time in my life to do this. I'm finally starting to see how this story has shaped me as a person and I'm very comfortable with that journey now.

It's been a long walk for our family. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Going Home.

Tomorrow, I'm going home, to my birthplace. It's been fifty years since I lived there.

I'll drive up the lane beside the pond where Nathan drowned. We'll greet the current owners of the farm and set up cameras—looking for the best place to shoot video.

And oh, by the way, tomorrow is my parent's wedding anniversary. They are both deceased, but maybe they'll be able to watch. I hope so.

(I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled blog post to bring you a special announcement. If you've been following the story of our family, you'll know that I mentioned plans to do a music video to the song "Pond Beside the Barn" this summer. As it turns out, we are going to do it this Saturday—weather permitting.)

It's been 10 years since we recorded and released the album with this song on it. For many years I refrained from doing it in my concerts because it was so potent and personal. When I did share it, I wasn't sure people were receiving it well. Too personal perhaps? Many times I wondered why I even recorded it. It's one thing for people to listen to the song whenever they want, but it feels like a very different thing to share it with audiences in a live setting. After all, I don't want to leave everyone feeling like they need Prozac—though we've often joked that I might make a better profit from selling that than music. 😉

But since the writing and release of my projects "Portraits of White" and "Brand New Me", the song has found a proper place in my concerts. Though the song hasn't changed, this singer has. My perspective is so different since I first wrote the song. It seems like I had to write two more albums to get to this point.

I am not going back to the farm in sadness. The seasoning of time has helped me process the grief. Perspective has given me a deep strength and peace. I realize now why I wrote so many songs about death, why I needed to do a Christmas album and Portraits of White show. The loss of a little loved one has made me dig deep. I'm ready to move forward, record the story/song on video and use it to encourage others who walk through similar journeys.

This past year, I've started putting the song back in my concerts. I've met people who come up to me afterward and say, "I lost someone too". They'll be able to tell me exactly where it happened. Funny thing about living—landscape IS important to us.

A few weeks ago, I returned to a venue to do a concert in the Pocono Mountains for the second time within a year and a gentleman came up to me and said, "You didn't do the song about your brother this time. I remember the sweet story." He brought his family with him and now they are interested in coming to the December show—and that's how the world works.

Life (or death) happens.
Seeds are planted.
Songs are written, recorded and shared.
People are touched.

Yes, tomorrow I'm going home.

This visit is very personal.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Those Faint Whispers! Part 1


Sometimes we feel or hear faint whispers that give a sense of direction, but we don't pay attention to them, for various reasons. Maybe we underestimate our ability to hear. Maybe we just don't want to hear. In the case of the story I'm about to share, it would appear as if my Mother really loved doing what she was doing and didn't want to stop, in spite of a faint whisper she was hearing.

I've been sharing extensively the impact the death of my brother, Nathan, had on our family. Our story doesn't end there. As you'll begin to see, there were many more struggles ahead for my Mother—which continued to rock our world, and I think that if she had heeded a whisper, a feeling she had, the next phase of our lives could have been very different.

I'm not in any way pointing a finger, because we've all had those times when we don't heed a warning we have. I just share it as part of our family's story.

The story from Bertha Sollenberger Crider Heisey continues:

"We ended up selling Willow Springs Farm and moving to a farm near Newville...Mt. Pleasant Farm. It was much larger and required more from us. One year, around 1970, to help make ends meet, I took on the job of driving a school bus. My route took me back towards the mountain on many narrow roads. Oh how I loved driving the bus and learning to know the children! I taught them Sunday School songs. One time, we got stuck in a snow drift...and the children said, "Let's pray, let's pray!". (I, Frances, have fond memories of sitting on a metal box of some kind right behind my Mother's bus driver seat. I enjoyed going with her as we picked up the children.)

At some point I began feeling like I should stop driving the bus, but I didn't want to. I liked the job and the extra income. I kept on.

And then, in January of 1971, about a year after I had been driving the bus, I had no choice to but to give it up. I was diagnosed with viral meningitis. For adults this is often fatal, and I was very seriously ill. But, I recovered.

Several months later though, I had symptoms of pounding head pains, lack of balance, distorted vision and taste. I remember working in the garden, (once I felt good enough to do that), I was down on my knees and there was an awful thumping in my brain.

By the beginning of 1972, those symptoms were so severe that I could not get around or take care of myself. Five weeks of tests and observation in two different hospitals—I was finally diagnosed with Hydrocephalus - which basically means "fluid on the brain". It was thought to be caused by scar tissue which formed when I had the meningitis, thus blocking the normal drainage of fluid from the brain. But the doctors knew what to do—a mechanical shunt would regulate the fluid in my head by way of a tube that would go from my brain to my stomach. Three openings were made, the shunt and tube were installed, and the operation was a success. My hair grew back slowly and I began a long road of gradual recovery that took about two years.

I cannot begin to tell you the extent of the generosity given to my family and me during those years of illness and the long road to recovery. I feel indebted to so many people—the church community, neighbors and our extended family—the meals that were brought in, the help and support that was given on so many levels, the cards and flowers sent, the visits made, the prayers that were offered. We witnessed first-hand just how far people will go to help."

Frances here:

Next week, I'll share how this experience impacted her and our family. I'll also share a time in my own life when I didn't heed a whisper I was hearing.

We can all learn from these mistakes.



Saturday, August 4, 2018

What Do You Say When Someone is Grieving?

She had no idea that the moment I pulled into the parking lot to attend the picnic, I wiped the tears away so no one would notice. How would I explain that the death of a little boy, over 50 years ago, still makes me cry?

Our conversation was too timely to be a coincidence!

"I knew your brother, Nathan", she said.

I know it can be hard to figure out what to say, but those are some of the most comforting words you can say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one—even if it's decades later!

On my way to that picnic I had been listening to the song I had recorded years ago—Beside the Barn—surrounding the tragic death of my brother, Nathan. I was practicing the song for an upcoming video shoot we are planning sometime this year.

(When you're preparing to do a music video, you have to learn the song exactly the way you sang it the day you recorded it so that in the music video, your lip syncing appears to be as if you're really singing it live. You ARE singing it live, but it's not being recorded in a way that people will hear it so it has to match your original version. The only way to do that is to listen to it and practice with it. Even your breathing should be in sync with the recording.)

As I drove to the picnic, each time the song played, the tears would accompany my shaky voice. I could barely even get through the song. It was an interesting prelude to my conversation with the new-found friend at the picnic. (The hostess of the picnic introduced us and thought we'd enjoy connecting because she knew my Mother.) She shared that when she was a young woman, she and her mother were watching children in the nursery at a conference and my Mother brought Nathan to the nursery to be cared for while she attended the missionary conference.

Apparently, while all the other children ran around the room with much animation, Nathan just sat in his little chair and watched. He hadn't been walking yet but not long after that event, my Mother shared that Nathan began to walk. As she shared her memories of him with me, I drank in every word. I asked her all kinds of questions about Nathan. Curious....what was he like that day in the nursery?

She is the one who brought up Nathan—not me—which made it all the more mysterious.

If you've ever lost a loved one, you understand this. Hearing about your loved one from someone else is a fragrance that lingers long after you walk away from the conversation and you absorb every word.

Words like this are a verbal bouquet and the fragrance has an enduring quality. If you know someone who is grieving, perhaps a simple mention of their loved one is a nice place to start in offering comfort.

P.S.

If you're like me and you're curious about "behind the scenes stuff", take a look at the music video, "Inside Things" that I did years ago. You can't see this, but while I sang this song (using the lip syncing method that I described above), I had a whole crew of people helping me: my performance coach reminding me to smile, or look "this" way and "that" way, the videographer running around me with his big camera, plus, my producer and the makeup/hair artist making sure all was well.

In the end, I was shocked that I was able to pull it off. I had to perform as if it was the day I first wrote the song and yet sing it as if no one was there. Like acting as if nothing is going on in the midst of a tornado.....

It was a really fun experience and I look forward to doing it again for the upcoming video shoot of "Beside the Barn". However, this will be a much more challenging song to do because of the nature of the story itself and going back to the home farm where it took place could be quite emotional.





Friday, July 27, 2018

Like Drops of Oil on a Sandpaper Heart

"Like sandpaper grinding on sandpaper in my chest."  It's the description my Mother used to express the sorrow following Nathan's death—and a very descriptive one.

"Sandpaper Heart"— I've written it down as a song title. I have no idea at this point what the song will be about but it's such a picturesque word, I feel I must write a song about it. Until then....

The story of Nathan's death (her 2 year old son) continues in my mother's words:

"That night, (after Nathan drowned), I tossed and turned, was up and down; I could not sleep. I had never felt hurt and pain like that, and it was beyond what I thought I could endure...like sand paper grinding on sand paper in my chest. Finally, toward morning, the vision or dream came back to me—I had not thought about it until then—seeing our two families assembled in the basement of the church ready to go upstairs for a funeral.

Not long before Nathan's death, I had a dream or a vision, was I sleeping or awake? I saw plainly our two families—the Sollenberger and Heisey families in the basement of Air Hill church, waiting to be ushered upstairs for the seating at a funeral as was the custom...and I said in the dream—"That means there is someone in our family—Orville's and mine, that has died".

Cousins as pallbearers with funeral directors - walking to the cemetery of Air Hill Brethren in Christ Church, carrying Nathan.
When the day of the funeral came, there we were; the two families brought together just as I had seen it. I realized then that the dream of vision had been from God, trying to prepare my heart.


God again had gone before me to tell me He was in control—a drop of oil was dropped onto the sandpaper in my chest. I can't describe the comfort it brought, ever so delicate and gentle but so soothing. As the days passed, more drops of oil were administered, bringing the comfort that God has promised to those who mourn. I said, "Thank you Lord..this is all part of your plan"...and my burden was somewhat lightened.

Even though I was able to rest in God's will, we all took Nathan's death very hard. We had great sadness—it would take a long time to grieve. We couldn't help the question—why? why? why?—trying to make sense of what seemed senseless. Finally, with God's help we began to see that Nathan was a special gift to us for two years. His life was not snuffed out—it wasn't shortened. He lived his full allotted time and our home was the one blessed by his earthly visit.

We would often reminisce at the table, remembering the little clown that he was, how much joy he had brought our family. Nathan seemed to have been "loaned" to us for two years, and we had to give him back."

Nathan just a few days before his death.