Tag Archives: happiness

Love Transforms Us

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The “love” of which I speak in this article can be romantic love, the love of friendship, or the love of God, but its power does not get diluted in the slightest by its different denominations. Love is a powerful force is in our lives, and I have personally witnessed and experienced what a profound effect it can have on us–I believe love can change us when everyone and everything else cannot.

(This post, admittedly, is my attempt to speak of what I don’t quite grasp yet, so it might be a little out there. But it’s been a rare uplifting topic on my mind for a few weeks, so I decided to write about it.)

Romantic Love: A Motivator for Personal Change

For years, I hated myself. Absolutely, definitively, hated myself. Imperfection was the big concern for me–I wasn’t mistake-free, of course, and I got picked on in school for every mistake I made, mostly because I made such a big deal about it. I even began to self-mutilate because of my perfectionism, ranging from beating my own head with my fist to biting the first phalange of my right index finger. I wanted to be perfect, and when I couldn’t be, I had to punish myself. Disturbed logic as it was, it made sense to me in the moment. I didn’t consider myself worthy of love because of my imperfection.

Though I am not completely free of self-mutilation today, I do it a lot less frequently (and with less vigor) than I used to. That, I can credit almost completely to the supportive, healing love my longtime boyfriend has offered me. He doesn’t yell at me or deride me when I begin to bite my finger (as is my wont when life is generally not going my way). He instead sits with me and talks to me, literally “talking me down” from hurting myself any worse. He’s told me several times that seeing me hurt myself frightens him and makes him sad, and that he would rather that I hurt him than hurt myself. (Of course, I would never hurt anybody else–that’s one reason I turn my anger on myself rather than hit somebody who might deserve a good punch in the face. XD)

Over the years we have been together, I have watched my need to self-mutilate shrink to an occasional thing rather than an everyday thing, and I find myself sharing my little successes with him, telling him that it’s been four days since I last bit, or maybe even a week and a half since I last bit. One day at a time? Indeed. It is a daily process, but his support and his love make it possible for me to let the dark crescents of bite marks on my fingers heal, and for me to stop needing to inflict more. This healing relationship has helped me to transform, in a way I never imagined I could be any different.

The Love of God: An Amazing Changing Force

In the mid-2000s, I knew a lady in her early thirties who was a friend of a friend’s family. She stayed with them a few weeks at a time, when she was between houses and between jobs; I soon grew to understand why she was often between houses and between jobs, since her drug use and drinking were a major part of her life, as well as abusive men who stole from her and tried to control her. She spoke often of being so strung out she didn’t know where she was, and on late nights my friend and I would hear her begin to cry, only to fall asleep in the middle of her tears. I didn’t really know what to say to her, how to talk to her so that maybe I could help her–it seemed like she was already an old woman in a young woman’s body, with medical problems and addictions that thinned her brown hair and shrunk her face so much that she looked like a faded portrait of herself.

She moved out of my friend’s house for the last time in 2007, and we lost contact with her afterwards. I worried that she was in prison or in a homeless shelter somewhere; I hoped maybe she had found a place to live somewhere else, away from all the bad memories. The last place I expected to see her again was my church in March of 2011, coming down the aisle to talk to the preacher about moving her membership there.

As I stood in the choir loft that morning, singing the verses of the invitation hymn that called anyone who wanted a few moments to pray at the altar to come down, I saw a trim but healthy-looking woman stand up from one of the back pews and walk down the center aisle toward the front of the church. Her hair, wavy and thick, was highlighted, warm blonde atop light brown, and she wore a smile and a glow that spoke of being whole at long last; she wore a simple blouse and skirt, looking put-together and professional. I did not know her, I was sure–and yet, as she clasped hands with the minister and began to speak to him quietly, I felt that somehow, I did know her. It was not until she turned and glanced at me, and her eyes brightened with recognition, that it finally clicked; she was the friend of a friend’s family from so long ago. She was so utterly changed, inside and out, that the memory I had of her didn’t match at all.

After church services were over, I came down from the choir loft and went to speak to her. There was a radiance about her that almost made me disbelieve she was the same woman I had known before–gone was the frail old-young woman who was sometimes too strung out to answer the door, and in her place was a woman with a new grace and stability. I didn’t get to speak to her long, but I walked away knowing that the love of God had transformed yet another soul, one I never would have guessed could have been reached. The completeness I sensed was so touching and poignant that I found myself weeping. Just as God had transformed my life through the love of a good man, so had He done hers through time and spiritual rediscovery.

I Don’t Know How It Works, But I’m Glad It Does!

I don’t know exactly how these transformations take place. All I know is that it’s hard for me to look back at the way I was before I met my boyfriend and feel the self-hatred thrumming through my memories, because I am quite different now. Yes, the hate does come back on occasion, when I’ve missed a turn on the road for the fifth time, or when I just can’t solve that last puzzle that will make a website work. But it’s a lot less often now. The love God brought into my life changed that for me, just as He changed the woman I once knew from helpless and broken to complete and joyful. Love, in all its forms, can indeed transform us as no other force can on earth.

Joining My Voice With Others

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Choirs have been a major part of my life since childhood, and I have loved every rehearsal and performance of it. Even though performing with any group, be it a dance troupe, an acting company, a band, or a large choir, is a commitment that takes dedication, it has helped anchor my life in many ways. The interdependency of a performance group is one reason I love choir–you become a family of sorts, understanding how each other operates, helping each other learn, working together for the common goal of producing beautiful music.

And yet, I would have never known my future interest in choir if I hadn’t taken a risk in 7th grade…and I wouldn’t have known just how important it was to me until I couldn’t be in a choir for a while.

My Personal Experience in School Choirs

Though I sang with my elementary school choir in 5th grade, I never really thought I had much of a singing voice until 7th grade, when I joined the choir “just to see if I liked it.” If I didn’t like choir, I reasoned, I could always go to band the next year.

I started out the year singing as I had always done: very softly, because I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. But my choir teacher kept urging us to “sing from the diaphragm”–take deeper breaths and somehow push a louder sound out. I couldn’t wrap my head around what she wanted, so for a few weeks I continued singing very, very softly.

Finally, one morning she was fairly exasperated with us because we weren’t really trying much that day–most of the class wasn’t paying much attention. Right in the middle of her instructions on how to produce bigger sound, a knock came at the door, breaking her concentration. “All right, I’m going to say this one more time,” she said quickly, as she went toward the door. “Take a deep breath–don’t move your shoulders–tighten your stomach, and produce the sound!” Then she opened the door and talked to whoever was outside.

In the 30 seconds it took for her to talk to the person, understanding suddenly flashed in my head. Tighten the stomach? OH! THAT’S what I was supposed to do! I thought, “Well, is that all? Heck, I can do that.” When she came back into the room and took up her position at the music stand again, I was ready to sing, with my deep breath and tightened tummy.

From the expression on her face as we sang through one or two measures, she was not ready for the explosion of sound that came from the alto section. She motioned for us to stop singing, and in this shocked voice, she whispered, “Who was THAT?” It felt like every finger in the alto section pointed to me, and I wasn’t sure if her reaction was a good thing or a bad thing at first. 😀 But the big smile that dawned on her face let me know I had done at least something right.

From that day, I became one of the strongest altos in the section, and I never did make it to band. Finally, after nearly seven years of feeling like I had no place at school and that I would never do anything of consequence, I had found a place for myself, a place to be useful to other people. Many of the other altos were, like me before, still too shy to sing, so I produced tons of sound…which, I found out later, helped some of the other girls become more comfortable with the idea of singing with every rehearsal. The rest of seventh and eighth grade passed in this way–and, by the end of eighth grade, most of the altos I sang with had found their confidence as well. We thus had a strong corps of ladies ready to move on into high school choir.

I made it from the freshman Glee Club to the highest-level Chamber Choir in tenth grade, as one of only three ladies to be promoted immediately from Glee Club to Chamber Choir that year. Three successful years of Chamber Choir followed, under the direction of our high school choir teacher, who worked with us just as hard to shape our sound. (Some days I was worried he was going to have a stroke in front of us, he worked so hard!) But I did learn how to produce the tall vowels and enunciated sounds he consistently looked for in performance and rehearsals.

I carried this experience and knowledge into my college career, with one year of singing with the Women’s Glee Club and three years of singing with the Women’s Choir. My knowledge of choral music and my ability to adapt to different song styles grew as I sang in college, and by the time I’d graduated with my undergrad degree, I had sung in at least 13 different languages, traveled to sing in New York and England, and met a number of wonderful musicians who enriched me just by singing beside them.

The Break from Choir

Unfortunately, when I got into my graduate degree program, I had to largely quit choir to pay more attention to my studies in Middle-Grades Education. Other than my church choir, which I got to sing with only on Sundays I came home from college (and even then, not as often as I liked), I was out of the organized singing groups I had been used to singing with for nearly 10 years.

This break from choir, oddly enough, helped me realize what I loved about singing, and what I missed about it. I missed the camaraderie formed by trying to learn songs together (and often missing notes, lol); I loved performing with my fellow altos, keeping our line strong and helping the other three parts to stay on target. Though I did get to sing on occasion, I missed the constancy of rehearsals more than once a week, learning many different pieces, building up to a huge performance. I honestly felt lost without a group to perform with, and I think it contributed to my sinking heart and low state of mind.

A Joyous Return

But a serendipitous meeting with an old choir buddy (at Walmart, of all places) let me know of a new opportunity–the local Choral Society, a group of all levels of singers, was looking for altos. That was the impetus for me to attend a rehearsal, which led me to join up within the week. It was an electric experience after having been out of regular choir for so long. I snapped back into place like a long-lost puzzle piece, and I haven’t even entertained the idea of dropping out since.

My Current Choir Experience

I’m now involved in Choral Society as well as my church choir, and both choirs fulfill me musically, but in different ways. Church choir is a time for me to praise God for the ability to sing and the ability to make music; it’s not so much about the technical perfection of the music, but about the feelings and meanings that propel that music along. Choral Society, by contrast, is a time for me to sing with other choral musicians who enjoy rehearsing and learning challenging and lovely music–striving for technical perfection is part of the enjoyment (even if you don’t quite get there in one rehearsal, LOL!).

I enjoy singing with others much more than singing alone, though singing alone is cool; there’s just something about hearing your voice meld with others’, hearing it build in intensity, hearing it recede and return like audible ocean waves. It’s almost an animal in and of itself, moving, growing, and changing moment by moment…it’s awesome. It may not be a powerful soloist’s career, but for me, it’s a powerful experience. I’m so glad I took the chance to “see whether I liked choir”–it led to a lifelong love.

Momentary Meditations

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There are blessed moments I encounter–moments of living neither in the past or future, but in the massive and yet ephemeral present. Being aware of each second clicking by, the cool freshness of the air being drawn into my nose. Taking time to truly feel the grass blades tickling my flip-flop-clad feet, and to smell the light sweet scent of azaleas and wildflowers in the front yard. Sensing the mobile curvature of my spine as I hunch above a keyboard or stretch back against the computer chair. Knowing how the smooth plastic computer keys will give way just enough under my fingers to produce a letter on the screen.

It’s an odd, electric kind of feeling, as if a shade has been drawn up from over my eyes and I’m finally seeing life as it is. In these few seconds, thought and intellect give way to feeling and instinct, just for a little while. I can appreciate the visual beauty and symmetry of tree branches and buildings around me, pause to hear random harmonies of birdsong and traffic, weaving together like the woodwind and brass sections of a giant unseen orchestra. Touch and smell become many times more important; suddenly, I am aware of how soft and lovely the shirt I’m wearing feels against my skin, and realize that the breeze is blowing a faint wonderful scent of food cooking from a restaurant down the street.

These moments of sensory feeling and glimpses of present peace are usually rare for me. Too often I live in a world of past guilt and anticipation of the future, and I’m insensitive to all this wonder going on around me. (I think we all have days like that!) Sometimes I feel like nothing more than a shell of myself, “living” without really feeling it, while my brain is somewhere else entirely, worrying, fretting or just going around and around without solving anything. Often it seems like I’m actually forcing myself to relax, and yet my brain is resisting every second of it.

Momentary meditations on the world around me, actually sensing the environment around me, actually hearing and seeing things outside my own head, manage to snap me out of the foggy dreariness I usually shuffle through, make me feel more alive. It’s often not an instinctive thing, either; I have to shift my mindset, and hush my inner monologue. (Amazing how much more life can filter into your brain when you actually let yourself experience it rather than letting your brain talk over it!)

If you’ve never had one of these random moments of clarity, it can start as simply as looking around you and really seeing everything. I hope this post can be one of those moments for you–then, you might find that a shade has lifted from your own life.

Warmer Temps, Warmer Mood

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multicoloredbushes
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It’s amazing how much the coming of spring affects my mood. Even though I know I’ll hate the hot weather when it arrives (usually in late April for us North Carolinians), I can’t help but enjoy the warmer breezes, sunnier days, and slowly leafing and budding plants. It feels like something in my spirit unfreezes–something unfurls and reaches for that first touch of sunlight that bears real warmth.

Could this be Seasonal Affective Disorder? Maybe. But maybe I’m just a springtime creature, reveling in the earth coming back to vibrant life after a long winter of icy weather and a dull outdoor color palette of browns, whites, and grays. When the woods around our house begin to yawn and stretch with birdsong and warm sun rays every year, I awaken with it, and wear my short-sleeved shirts with abandon (and without a coat). Soon, spring will bring waves of pollen blowing into our faces, and later it will leave us with humidity that won’t let even the least bit of sweat evaporate, but till then I will enjoy little buds of color slowly appearing on every bare branch, and the first brave green sprouts dappling across the front yard.