Saturday, September 15, 2012

Music and the Death of a Father-- Beyond the Brokenness

My dad was a dreamer. When I was little, he would fill my head with stories about the world, about his plans for us to travel it together, about his love for life. 

I am my father's daughter. When I was little, I would fill his ears with melodies, with my plans to sing in great concert halls, with my love for music. I now realize how blessed I am to say that he didn't shush my breathy voice or my big ideas. He asked me to sing to him. He watched Les Mis on VHS with me a thousand times. He treasured my dreams and gave me more words for them. He told me about places like Carnegie Hall. "One day, I'll take you there. You'll love it." He promised. 

My father died of cancer when I was fourteen. Four years of grief recovery gave me the courage to love music again, but it was a wound. I went to conservatory to study, and I saw for the first time those places my dad told me about as a child. I experienced such overwhelming beauty-- I was right in the middle of the sounds I'd been imagining my whole life-- only, he wasn't there to experience it with me. That had been the plan. That had been the dream. While my experience at conservatory was joyful, it was mixed with deep sorrow. Throughout my years there, I wrote poems like this:

the air is full of music here
and i can scarcely breathe it in-
when it fills my lungs
they start to burst
and i think of you again.
the air is full of memory
and i can never feel the same
i see you every place i go-
even the sunlight speaks
your name.
the air is full of beauty here
but nobody seems to know
that all the beauty in the world
won't let me let you go.

Music connected me to my dad, but in a way that made very obvious and very painful the reality that he is not here. The glimpses of future glory I was given at conservatory made me feel the weight of brokenness in the present-- a taste of "the way things ought to be" kept me alive to "the way things are." There, the beauty I experienced in music was a reminder of the gaping hole in my life-- the lack of beauty that sin and death had brought. 

After graduating from conservatory, Michael and I moved to Texas to go to seminary. The music that fills the halls in my new school doesn't compare to what I left behind. We don't stand in great concert halls or shake the earth with triumphant symphonies. Each week in chapel, we sing humble songs of worship to the humble sounds of a guitar. Most of the time, I'm not enraptured or swept away by the beauty of the music, and thus not awakened to the narrative of love and loss in my life. But this past week, it happened. I felt the overwhelming connection to my dad again, only this time, it was a very different experience. Here is what we sang:

Let us praise and join the chorus
Of the saints enthroned on high
Here they trusted Him before us 
Now their praises fill the sky, 
"Thou hast washed us with Thy blood
Thou art worthy, Lamb of God"  

As I once again opened my heart to the music that went straight to the wounds in me, I once again felt the sorrow of the present reality (that my dad is not here with me) but this time, it was overshadowed by the comfort that he is with Jesus. This time, music reminded that the first half of the story-- that things are not as they should be-- gives way to the overwhelming power of the second half of the story-- that in Christ, all things are being made new. Because of Jesus, my dad is here even though he's not here. What's more, he doesn't still carry any of the sin he once did. Now, he's fully cleansed and fully new. That means all of the painful memories my family has of him-- hurtful things he might have said, unholy attitudes he might have held-- those aren't a part of him anymore. The only song on his tongue now is, "He has washed us with His blood." 

He's with the saints enthroned on high, the "great cloud of witnesses," and this time I realized, he's actually singing with me. I don't have to experience music alone the way I thought I did. In fact, the music he's experiencing beyond the brokenness is more beautiful than anything he might have missed at Carnegie Hall. As I sang about him singing God's praises with others who have "trusted Him before us," it's as if I could see his eyes light up like they always did when he had a great dream to share, "One day, we'll be here together. You'll love it." 

The pain of the present is real. Sin and death have wreaked havoc, and we are left broken and bleeding in the aftermath. But that's not the end of the story. Through Christ, we can have hope that "all things will be made new." Those who put their trust in Him get to be part of the song that is currently being sung beyond the brokenness. 

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