"No matter where I am, your teachings fill me with songs." - Psalm 119:54 (CEV)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Part of Me

It tends to happen when I record.

I focus on accompaniments.

I focus on vocals.

I focus on mixing.

I focus on the artwork for the CD.

I focus on recording instead of writing.

More gets done that way.

Still, when I look at the date for my last song and realize that I wrote it about a month ago, I start to question.

When I look at my composition book and realize that I have blank pages to fill, I feel somewhat less than productive.

I know I can't stop writing.  (Believe me, I tried.  I had to know for sure whether or not writing was something I was supposed to do.  I read that trying to stop would give me an answer.  If I could stop, I wasn't meant to write.  If I couldn't, I was.  I didn't even last two days.)

I know that my inability to stop wasn't just some kind of a mistake.  (I've never been as encouraged in my writing as I was after I failed to stop.  Someone offered words of encouragement every day for about a week.  That's never happened before or since.)

Still, the realization that I haven't written in almost four weeks makes me doubt.

Maybe this isn't for me after all.

Then, of course, I look at the evidence and convince my brain that it doesn't know what it's talking about.

My heart, on the other hand, isn't entirely sure, . . .

Especially that part of me that hates to stare at a blank page, that part of me that longs to fill it up.

I was driving to a church service I like to attend with my friends from school on Sunday night.

I had the radio on.

A song I'd heard before began to play.

As I sang along, I found that my mind wrapped around one particular lyric:
" . . . You can make a weak heart stay alive forever."
This reminded me of another lyric from another song:
" . . . love can make a heart that's barely beating
Come alive . . ."
All these thoughts of hearts and how they come alive and are kept alive reminded me of a post I'd read a month ago.

In this post, a young girl accidentally rips the paper heart she'd made to remind her that God's love always surrounds us.  Her mother is afraid that the girl might be upset.  Instead, the young girl says:
“It's okay.  Even when a heart's broken, His love's still around me everywhere.  And maybe the love get's in easier here where it's tore?”
I loved that thought.

I think it's true - His love can get in easier when a heart is torn.

I've felt it before.

Shortly thereafter, the radio was no longer on.

Words were twisting themselves around in my head.

The melody came with the words.

The verses came, then the refrain.

I was writing.

Driving down the road, I went over the lines in my head so that I would remember.

When I arrived and sat down, I opened the "idea notebook" I'd brought with me, the notebook I always write little thoughts and ideas in.

Research, bits of lines, sometimes entire verses and songs are written in this "idea book".

I found a clean page.

I found my pen.

I began to write . . .


The numbers on the screen counted down the minutes - and then seconds - until worship would start.

I rushed to finish so that I would get it all down before I got lost in the music and then the words and forgot what I'd been creating in my head.

I didn't make it.

I missed most of the first song - one of my favorites, too - because I was almost done writing these words.

This, too, is an act of worship:  the use of the abilities God has blessed me with.

I didn't quite finish.  I was missing a couple of words.  I'd left a blank where they were supposed to go.

They came while we were worshiping.

I wrote them down before the sermon.

When I got home, I copied what I had from my "idea notebook" into my composition book.

I had a little left to go.

I "finished" it.  (Not counting the inevitable and neverending corrections, of course.)

It was - is - the second one I've ever written that ended up being three pages long.

I did my "backup" of the song.

As I rewrote it and reread it, I made several revisions.

"Finished" is about as close as I ever come to literally being finished.

I stayed up late, as is typical, reading it until I was relatively satisfied that I couldn't make it much better.

I went to bed feeling as though I'd accomplished something - something I've been longing to accomplish for about a month.

I'd written again.

It certainly wasn't the best song I'd ever written, but that didn't matter.

All that mattered was that I had written.

Every time the words come and send my pencil scratching across the paper, it feels so good.

I feel so blessed.

Blessed to be able to think and process and create in this way.

It feels so right.

Sometimes it happens every day.

Sometimes it happens every few weeks.

Sometimes it happens somewhere in between.

Occasionally, it happens less frequently.

However long it takes for something to inspire me, to make the words and melodies start to come, I always feel incredibly grateful and incredibly blessed.

This - this writing - is a part of me now more than it ever was before.

I can't imagine what my life would be like without it.

I can't imagine who I would be without it.

Thank You, Lord.

The quote " . . . You can make a weak heart stay alive forever." is from the song "The Redeemer", performed by Sanctus Real.  The quote " . . . love can make a heart that's barely beating/Come alive . . ." is from the song "Come Alive", written by Mark Schultz and Matthew West and performed by Mark Schultz.  Many thanks to these people for their inspiring music.

The quote “It's okay.  Even when a heart's broken, His love's still around me everywhere.  And maybe the love get's [sic] in easier here where it's tore [sic]?” is from a blog post by Ann Voskamp, which can be found in part at Ann's website,
http://www.aholyexperience.com/2011/04/if-youre-hearts-breaking-just-a-bit/,and in its entirety at http://www.incourage.me/2011/04/if-your-hearts-breaking-just-a-bit.html.  Many thanks to this amazing writer for touching me with simple truths 
like these and inspiring me in so many ways.

Just a friendly reminder:  The handwritten lyrics in the pictures are copyrighted - ©2011 Mary Schieferstein.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Game That Doesn't End . . .

They wanted me to play with them.

They begged me.

The two youngest wanted to continue our game.

In trying to spend time with them, I'd ended up suggesting a game of Monopoly.

We now have two games going at the same time:  one on my Star Trek: Continuum Monopoly set and another on the Star Wars: Limited Collector's Edition Monopoly set that someone gave me.

I got out the board and set it up.

We could play all afternoon at the rate we were going.

(Of course, I knew we wouldn't.  They would inevitably get bored and want to move on.)

We had our money and properties stacked.

We let all of the players begin on "Go".

We all got an automatic $200.

We moved our tokens around the board.

There was always someone low on money.

Inevitably, that person would land on a space that had a plastic ship (the equivalent of a Hotel) resting on it.

Inevitably, that person would not be asked to pay what he or she could not afford.

"Just give me one hundred." or "I'll take a twenty." were commonly heard.

Continuing to break the official rules (at least as I learned them), money began to pile up under the "Free Parking" space.

Taxes, fines, and "Get me out of jail NOW!" money collected underneath the corner of the board.

Inevitably, someone would land on that space.

Inevitably, the other two would clap and congratulate the lucky one on "hitting the jackpot".

Frequently, the lucky winner would then start handing out $100 bills to his or her fellow players.

As is also common, I handed over $250 to the oldest of the two youngest (or "the second youngest") in order to pay her for landing on the "Swamp" (the space next to "Go" that costs $60 to buy).

As I turned away to move the dice in the direction of the next player, the second youngest looked at my money.

Noticing that only one $500 remained, the second youngest decided to return most of what I'd just paid while I "wasn't looking".

Of course, I noticed, which led to a bit of an argument:

"Take it.  It's yours."
" No.  I want you to have it."
"I still have a $500.  I'll be okay."
"No.  I want you to have it."
(. . . and so on and so forth.)
In the end, I gave in, accepting the money and thanking the second youngest for showing such generosity.

We eventually called it quits.

As I placed the items back into the box, I thought, "This is never going to end."

The game of Monopoly is based on taking.

When you land on my space, you are to pay rent.

When you land on property or luxury tax, it must be paid.

When property is traded, it is almost always because one convinced another by offering a large incentive.

The game is based on taking everyone else's money.

So what happens when you change that dynamic?

When you land on my space, I would like you to pay rent, but if you don't have the money, that's okay.

When you land on property or luxury tax and can't pay it, I will sneak the money from my pile into yours.

When property is traded, it is for the benefit of both.  I will even give you property if you are in desperate need.

I will take care of you.

I will make sure that you survive for at least one more turn.

I will pay your debts.

That is why the game will never end.

We play with the second dynamic:  That of people who have had their debts paid by SomeOne and are so filled with gratitude and joy that they can't help but imitate the actions of that One.

Well, at least in Monopoly.

I am amazed by these actions begun by these precious young.

I eagerly began to participate in them and continue to participate in them because they saw a truth that I overlooked in order to "follow the rules".

I have found something better.

I have learned.

I will help these two youngest because the rules of the game aren't as important to me as making sure everyone has a chance to play.

I would rather go bankrupt myself than allow one of these two to suffer that fate.

After all, I know what it's like to have my debt paid.

I wonder what the world would look like if people lived the same way the two youngest and I play Monopoly?

"Those who accepted [Peter's] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:41-42, 44-47 NIV)
"All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.  For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." (Acts 4:32-35 NIV)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Washed by the Water"

It was time.

The rain and the pump had done their work well.

What was formerly empty was now filled.

The waters had risen.

The pool was ready.

It was time.

The waters were cold.

They needed heat.

They needed that sheet of blue bubble wrap to warm them.

It was time.

There was only one problem.

It was dirty.

I walked into it, having seen my family outside, volunteering to help.

A hose snaked through the grass.

I was asked to retrieve a brush.

I did.

They turned the hose on.

Water squirted out, beautiful and clean.

At least, clean in appearance.

The youngest two took it and began spraying the solar cover.

Shortly thereafter, they sprayed one another.

As water flew into the leaves of the trees above, they danced in the "rain".

One took the brush and made a halfhearted attempt at removing a few leaves before returning to run in the spray.

I have forgotten this over the years - the joy of getting wet by running through water as it flies in the air.

They quickly soaked themselves.

They did get a little work done, though.

I went inside to protect the camera from the watery blast.

When I returned (without the camera this time), I found him, the oldest of all, standing on the blue sheet.

He was washing it with the water.

He explained how he had found the youngest two neglecting their job and had "fired" them.

I helped him flip it over.

The water pooled near a corner, its weight preventing us from succeeding in our task.

I lifted up behind the pool and it spilled into the grass.

Then we flipped.

I did this side.

I did it by myself.

I took the hose and sprayed the dirt.

The pressure of the water moved the leaves.

I took the brush and began to step out onto that blue sheet, ready to remove leaves.

Then I felt something I did not expect.

My weight had created a canal, causing a pool of water to run over my shoes.

I tried to step again and experienced the same result.

That is how my wet shoes found themselves in the grass to the side, topped by wet socks.

I continued my adventure barefoot.

As I stepped, the water made pools around my feet.

As I tried to brush the leaves off, I stood in wet.

This wet had dirt and leaves from last fall mixed in with the formerly (almost) clean water.

Somehow, I didn't mind.

It felt good.

Good to be doing something, good to be standing in a puddle, good.

Somehow, this dirty felt clean.

I felt washed - in so many ways.

"Washed by the water."

"Washed by the Water", used as the title of this blog (as well as a common theme throughout) is a song preformed by NeedToBreathe.  I used the title of this song because I was thinking of it as I cleaned the solar cover.  Many thanks to this group for their inspiring music.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Repairing What is Beyond Repair

We messed up.

We really messed up.

It was late and we'd been working for about an hour, trying to mix the five songs I'd recorded so that I could practice with them and then rerecord the vocals.

We were on "Still Holding Me", using the fourth recording to create a mix.

We'd selected the channel mixer.

We mixed the channels so that the keyboard and vocal parts would be in both channels.  Right speakers, left speakers, the right side of the headphones, the left side of the headphones - all would have elements of both keyboard and vocals.

It worked.

We were left with an image of mixed channels.  Keyboard accompaniment added spikes to the vocal part that had not been there before.  Vocals made the keyboard part thicker, more full.

We pressed play.  It sounded good.

The resident music expert asked me if he could save it.

I said yes.

That was where we messed up.

Really messed up.

The green bar slid across the tiny window, indicating that the file was being saved, when I realized that we had not removed the dead space from the end of the piece.  I needed the dead space gone so that I could practice with this mix more effectively.

He hit "Cancel".

Then I realized that we had forgotten something else.

When we make a mix of a file, we first take the original recording and give it a new file name.  That way we don't save over and lose the original.

Keeping the original was especially important in this instance, as I had planned on rerecording the vocal part.  I couldn't delete the old vocal part and replace it with a new one if the old one was mixed in with the piano part.

The only problem was, we had never given the original recording a new file name so that the original would still be intact.

I silently thanked God that the music expert had hit "Cancel" instead of allowing the file to finish saving.

The music expert saved the mix under a different name, then dragged the original back into the window.

They were identical.

The file had saved anyway.

We had messed up.

We had really messed up.

I realized that there was no way to fix this.  Once a file is mixed and saved, there is no magical "Un-mix" button.

"I can't do anything with this file now," I thought.  "I can't delete the vocal part and put in a new one when the vocal part is mixed in with the keyboard accompaniment."

We had spent several minutes creating this mix, only to hit one wrong button and defeat the purpose of creating it.


I asked him to open the third recording.  It wasn't quite as good as the fourth, but it was close enough.  There weren't any mistakes in the notes, the only problem was that the timing of the third recording was a little worse than the timing of the fourth recording.

I had been so happy with the fourth recording, but now I couldn't use it.  It was too late.

Oh, well.

I silently thanked God that the third recording was good enough to use in place of the fourth.

"We'll have to do it all again," I said.

Then he said something I did not expect to hear:

"What if we could fix the other one?"

I was skeptical, not believing this was really possible.  Still, the prospect of using the fourth recording rather than the third was more than enough to make me want to try.

So we tried.

The resident music expert used his mathematical genius to determine a way to use the channel mixer to "un-mix" the mix.

There was only one problem.

The channel mixer wouldn't let him put in a big enough number.  He needed to input 125, but the mixer only accepted values up to 100.

We would have to play around with it.

We put in the positive value at the maximum, 100.

The negative value was more difficult.

We tried -30.

I was amazed at the fact that so much of the vocal part had been removed from the accompaniment, but it wasn't enough.

We tried -33.

We copied the accompaniment into a different file and listened for hints of the vocal part.

Still not good enough.

We tried -32.

The vocal part sounded louder than it had when we tried -33.

We tried -34.

Close, but the consonants and higher notes could still be heard (or, at least, I could hear them because I was listening for them).

We tried -35.

If the vocal part was still there, which it probably was, it was almost completely inaudible.  I couldn't really hear it.

We hit OK.

The green bar slid across the tiny window again, this time indicating that the computer was processing the channel mix (or "un-mix" in this case).

Then the green bar reached its destination and the tiny window went away.  We looked at the screen.

We had managed to put the file back almost exactly the way it was before.

Isn't it amazing how something can seem so beyond repair, yet can still be fixed?

Thank You, God!

We kept the mix that we had made so that I could practice with it.

This time, we used a different file name.

Pictures are a recreation of the chain of events.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Sweetly Broken"

The storm came a couple of days ago.

The winds blew strong,

The lightning flashed,

The thunder crashed,

And it poured.

I came home yesterday and saw something I did not expect to see.

The tree stood taller than it once had.  I remember when it was just a baby, back when I was young(er).  I had not realized how much it had grown.  So tall!

I noticed now because of the pile of branches on the ground.

The storm had come, the rain had poured, and that tree broke -

Almost in two.

Broken and scarred.

Half of the branches, half of the leaves could be found lying on the ground, half-attached to the trunk.

Half of that tree was gone, destined to die (if not considered dead already).

She said today, "I don't know what to do about that tree."

She said it as if she wanted to get rid of it.

After all, who wants to have a broken tree in the front yard, where anyone can see it?

When it blooms, who wants to look at the half and ache to remember that it once was whole?

Or could it become whole again?

I looked at the tree yesterday and thought, "We are this way."

We start so small, fragile, and weak.

We grow bigger and stronger and more beautiful.

We think we look best this way - whole.

Then the storm comes.

Then something is lost.

Broken and scarred.

We are devastated to be this way, . . .

Split in two.

We try to pretend that we're still whole, . . .

But anyone can see that we're not.

There are many trees where I live, but my favorite stands at the side of the yard.

It has been there for a long time, probably since long before I was born.

It has always been my favorite.

I didn't used to know why, still . . .

I buried my baby bunny underneath its branches,

I spent so much time looking at it and staring in awe.

My parents told me that this tree had been struck by lightning.

I can see the scar.

This tree has been broken.

It is still a little broken.

Broken and scarred.

I like that.

I like that because this tree is special.

It was hurt by the storm more than most trees are, but it survived.

I can see the proof.

I see the scar . . .

And I call it "character".

This tree has character.

It is not perfect.

It knows what it is to be broken.

It knows what it is to be scarred.

It still stands, tall and proud as ever.

Maybe if it had never been hit, it would be a little fuller, a little more "perfect".

To me, it's full enough the way it is, more perfect broken than it ever was "whole".

"Sweetly broken."

"Broken and beautiful."

To me, this tree is whole.

In fact, it is more whole than any other tree I've ever seen.

The fullness of time has healed the wound,

Left the scar,
And proven truth.

It's true - broken can be beautiful.

Why do we try to hide our brokenness?

Why do we see this as broken, but not beautiful?

It is the brokenness that makes a person unique - with a story unlike anyone else's.
It is the brokenness that makes a person more - more loving, more caring, more.  More than he or she ever was before.
It is the brokenness that makes a person into who he or she is supposed to be.

Growth doesn't come without rain.

Healing doesn't come without scars.

True beauty doesn't come without brokenness.

Still we hide the broken, the scarred.


Isn't this beautiful?

"Sweetly Broken", used as the title of this blog, is a song performed (and probably written, though I'm not entirely sure,) by Jeremy Riddle.  "Broken and Beautiful" is a song written and preformed by Mark Schultz.  The idea that scars can look more like character comes, at least in part, from the song "Less Like Scars", written and preformed by Sara Groves.  Many thanks to these people for their inspiring music.

The phrase "broken and scarred" is from one of my own songs, "Always", which is about Joseph (the one in the Old Testament with the awesome coat who went through quite an ordeal to become who God wanted him to be).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Maybe . . .


I felt it again today.  That feeling I learned about a couple of months ago.

Maybe I need to be brought to the breaking point
To understand whole one more time.

Every once in a while, I had been feeling burdened for no apparent reason.  Weighed down, longing for a way to be free, desperate for a way out.

I felt it on Maundy Thursday.

I knew I wouldn't be able to go to church that evening.  I had been thinking about how I would miss the stories, how I would miss those bits of Scripture woven together, that reminder of what my Savior did for me.

I felt it on Maundy Thursday and I knew.

I thought by myself I'd be just fine,
But that's not true at all.

It had taken me three years to read through the Book, three years to read each introduction and each verse, three years - cover-to-cover.

I thought I had accomplished what I needed to.  I thought I could move on to just reading a devotional every day.  After all, devotionals have Scripture.  That should be enough for me, right?


Maybe I need to take this test
To understand what it is I've missed.
I thought by myself I could stand,
But all I've done is fall.

When I felt it that Maundy Thursday, I knew that I was missing something.  Something important.

The Word.

The daily reading of the Words that bring Life.

I was missing it.

I felt it . . .

And I knew.

My heart is an empty well,
A parched, desert land.
Will You take this empty shell
And fill it up again?

I knew what it was I needed and I reached for it, longing to read just a word out of that precious Book.

But first . . .

I took the moment to find a word to describe the feeling, the longing.

I am thirsty.

Then I took the feeling, the longing, the thirst and put it into words,

Into poetry,

Into music.

I am thirsty.

Once I had taken the time to capture the thirst so that I would never forget, I grabbed and I read, thirsty for words much better and much more important than my own - God's Words.

My heart is an empty well,
A parched, desert land.
Will You take this empty shell
And fill it up again?

I am thirsty.
I am thirsty.

I found that, as I took in those precious Words, the weight lifted and I felt filled, more filled than I'd been in a long time.

I was filled, and I learned.

. . . maybe I'm the one who moved
Or maybe I just can't see
That, right here, in this very room,
You are holding me.

Hold me.

Today I returned from spending a precious (almost) two days with my friend - one of my two best friends, in fact.

In spending time with her, our relationship was strengthened, which was important, . . .

But, for those (almost) two days, my focus was her.

It isn't that focusing on a friend is a bad thing.  In fact, I find it to be a very good thing.  That is how we build one another up.

Still, in focusing on my friend, I lost my morning time spent focusing only on the Ultimate Focus, God.

So I was thirsty.

I walked into the house, putting my stuff down, thinking, "I need time with God, time in the Word.  Now."

I am thirsty.

I was desperate to be filled again.

I took the worn Book in my hands . . .

The corner so worn that a little bit of cover is coming off - in addition to the little that already has come off.

The edges where there used to be pink, but now the cream colors that had hidden underneath are showing.

The duct-tape from where the binding began to come apart.

A church sign I once saw said, "A Bible falling apart belongs to someone who isn't."

I think there's truth in that.

I'll admit that sometimes I am falling apart, . . .

But clinging to this Book holds me together enough for its Author to bring healing.

Sometimes it takes time, but, eventually, I'm not falling apart anymore.

Today, I was falling apart just because I was thirsty.

My heart is an empty well,
A parched, desert land.

So I reached, I grabbed, I clung . . .

Will You take this empty shell
And fill it up again?

I need this.  Desperately.  I have come to the point where I can't survive without it . . .

And that's where I want to be.

That's where I want to stay.

Sometimes, thirsty reminds me that I have something - rather, SomeOne - to be thirsty for.

I am thirsty.
I am thirsty.

But I know the only One who can fill.

Just a friendly reminder:  The italicized, bolded words, along with the handwritten words in two of the pictures are lyrics which are copyrighted - ©2011 Mary Schieferstein
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