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Hark! I hear the harps eternal, ringing on the farther shore
as I near those swollen waters, with their deep and solemn roar.
Hallelujah, hallelujah! Hallelujah, praise the Lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah! Glory to the great I AM!

This post has been brewing for some time, and with Ash Wednesday coming around again in a few days, now is as good a time as any to send it out into the world.

Here’s the thing: I’m not afraid to die.

Is this a strange thing to talk about, at 43 years of age and in good health?
It shouldn’t be, I think.  We all face death at the end of our journey on earth. But it is never something we talk about, except in hushed and fearful tones, and never with ease. We seem to believe very firmly in certain myths: Young people don’t die. Old people shouldn’t die. And death is a tragedy; it means something has failed.

I don’t believe any of these myths.

Life is uncertain; our bodies are fragile and breakable things. Really, the miracle is that our souls fit into such structures at all, for any length of time.
If you had something so precious, would you keep it in a box made of soft flesh and thin-walled veins? Why do we think of ourselves as lasting, when we never can?

Jen, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I will die, at some point, and I don’t know when. It could be soon. I hope not; I’m enjoying every moment of this life and have no wish to miss out on the party. But I know that something could happen in an instant, inside of me or outside of me, which could break this body and send my soul flying.

When that happens, whenever it happens, please, my beloved friends and family, do NOT say things like “She was so young” or “Why did this have to happen to her” or “What a shame.” My life is not a shame, not any part of it, including my death, no matter when or how it occurs. My life has been a blessing to me, a complete gift, and hopefully it has been in some way a blessing to you as well.

When somebody dies, you should bring up their name
Tell some story, or sing one of their songs.

Here’s what I would like. When my time comes to die, come together in praise and worship. Mourn, surely, for that is what we do; but also worship in truth, praising God for the gift of life, and for the great joy that we shared some part of that life together! What a miracle, what a blessing, that we were here, together, and found each other, and loved each other! Give thanks to God for that, with no regret or wish for more than we had. It is all pure gift and grace. If you miss me, love each other all the more. And take care of my girls and each other. (Stop by the house and wipe down the kitchen counters once in a while for me, if you can. They might need it. Help yourself to a bit of yarn stash as thanks.)

And sing! Sing hymns of praise. Sing shapenote songs! (Altos, I’m looking straight at you, sisters.) Choir friends, I want “Order My Steps” sung at my funeral, and you better sing it LOUD, in full voice!

I want to walk worthy, my calling to fulfill
Please order my steps, Lord, and I’ll do your blessed will
The world is ever changing, but You are still the same
If you order my steps, I’ll praise your name 

I pray that while I walk this earth, that I am of service; that I notice my neighbor and love them; that I am of use in the places where I am, and willing to go where I am needed.

Death come a’riding by the Christian’s door,
He said O, Christian, are you ready to go?

Tell me, that Christian just smiled, and she said yes, yes, yes, I’m ready to ride,
I’ve done my duty and I’m satisfied, just let me get on board, I’m ready to go,
Because I just got on my traveling shoes. 

I know that when I am gone, as I will someday be, the world will go on turning, and changing, and that’s as it should be. As it has always been.
I am at peace with that.

Rise up yonder, Christian! Away up yonder!
O, yes, my Lord! And I don’t care to stay here long! 

Grace and peace be to you as well. We are all dust, and to dust we shall return. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

(with thanks to theologians Dick Smith, Leonard P. Breedlove, Glenn Burleigh, Alice Parker, and The Badgett Sisters.)


Things I am learning from mandolin lessons:

It is both exciting and frustrating to take on something new.

It is humbling, when my fingers absolutely will not hit the right frets, or my pick hand can’t keep hold of the pick, or no matter how long I practice, there’s still a hitch between the fourth and fifth notes on the scale that I can’t seem to smooth out.

I want to be good at it. I want to be better at it than I am. I want to be getting better at it, faster than I am actually getting better at it.

I have a little panic that maybe I won’t ever be good at it. Maybe it’s just not my thing, and I should stick to what I already know. This panic tempts me to quit now, even though I’ve been taking lessons less than four months.

Sometimes practice makes a huge difference. If I practice every day, I can really tell a change in how I’m able to play. Practice is really fun at these times.

Sometimes practice doesn’t seem to make any difference at all. I get stuck at a plateau and keep making the same mistakes over and over. Practice is less fun at these times.

Sometimes I use a metronome to pace myself, and practice primarily for speed. This is fun.

Sometimes I stop using a metronome for a while, and realize that while I can play a song quickly, it sounds like crap.

One week, I practiced “Solider’s Joy” every day and could play it really quickly AND fairly well. When I went to my lesson that week, my teacher wanted to hear me play “Alabama Jubilee.”

I can play more evenly and with fewer (or at least less noticeable) mistakes when my teacher plays alongside me.

If I wait for the “perfect time” to practice, when I won’t be bothering anyone else, I don’t get much practicing done. My family has to put up with listening to that hitch in the scale and the hard parts of “Alabama Jubilee” over and over. Oddly, they don’t seem to mind it as much as I expect.

Sometimes, slowing a song down, and taking it section by section, helps my hands to learn the patterns. Then I can speed it up and hear it as it should be.

Sometimes, speeding a song up – and playing it regardless of mistakes – breaks through some barrier in my mind that says “I can’t play this” – because I’m playing it anyway. Then I can slow it down and hear it as it should be.

Sometimes I’d rather write about playing the mandolin, than actually pick up the instrument and practice it.

time to practice…