A Hallelujah Chorus


The conductor stately walks down the corridor towards us. 

The tails of his tuxedo are perfectly pressed, the pleats of his starched white shirt under the lapels perfectly parallel, and his endless toothy smile reaches from cheek to cheek when he sees me and my mama.  Once he was the kind of unruly boy my mom used to teach.  Now he has harnessed his boundless energy into bringing out the power of music into young people.

He bends over to kiss mom on the head. “Hello, Mama,” he says as she looks up to him from her wheelchair.  A smile of recognition lights up her face even though it has been eight years since she has last seen him, when he was her conductor in a Christmas choir.

“Hello,” she smiles endlessly back, squeezing his hand.

“I am so glad to see you, I was meant to see you today,” he said as he pats her shoulder.

After a hug he turns and marches toward the stage entrance.

I have watched my friend Dr. Jeffery Redding conduct award winning high school choirs beneath the lights of Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, in the ancient colosseum of Verona, in the courtyard of San Marco Plaza in Venice, but tonight I watch his elegant tails march toward the stage of the American Gardens Theatre at EPCOT in Disney World to lead the time honored tradition of the Candlelight Processional, a Christmas Tradition that Walt Disney himself began at Disneyland more than 50 years ago.

Tonight my friend takes the honored position behind the podium to conduct the 50 piece orchestra and 300 voices of the Disney Voices of Liberty, Cast Member Choir, and auditioned high school choirs. Though I have watched him conduct many times, there was something special about this assembly of voices from all walks, all age groups, all levels on this stage to share a Christmas message.


The tradition of story and song together this holiday season seems to bring comfort and joy to a world full of randomness. Guests have lined up for hours waiting outside the theatre to enter, and when capacity was reached, watched from the courtyard across the stage. Many are drawn to the comfort of this familiar message, this familiar music, these familiar words we have heard over and over in our heads for years.

These words spoken and sung tonight bring tears to my eyes as I watch my 91-year-old mama, sitting next to me in her wheelchair, her Alzheimer’s riddled mind brought clear this night through the power of music, song and story. I see her face radiate with joy. I watch her hands moving gracefully to the music, mimicking the elegant movements of Jeff’s on stage. She turns to me and smiles.


“He is such a good conductor,” she states. This mama of mine, who one month ago was in ICU, suffered a mild stroke and infection and rounds of tests and antibiotics, is now a completely different person next to me, her whole body swaying and clapping and singing to the familiar songs of Joy to the World, Silent Night, and her favorite:

“Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices.

Oh night Divine, Oh night, when Christ was born.

Oh night, O Holy Night,

Oh night Divine.”

And tonight is a divine night, as I see my mama transform through the power of music, transform as she watches my friend bring to life and draw out from these voices and these instruments the power and glory of the words and the notes so often heard but not truly experienced.

I am one of the first to stand as I hear the strings start up the familiar introduction to Handel’s Messiah.

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”


Mama also tries to stand, but her legs are so weak. I grab her hand and together we wave our clasped fingers to the powerful chorus and the strings and brass and percussion of the orchestra.

Mama’s words are very few lately.  But these words tonight are crisp and clear and proclaimed with all her heart.

“King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And he shall reign forever and ever. Forever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Words crisp and clear and brief.

Words that need no explanation.

Words that are made more powerful in the repetition that accompanies Alzheimer’s are glorious tonight.

Timeless words and timeless melody that my mama revels in, heart and soul.

In this present moment, when all for her is crystallized in time, in place, in right now, this beauty is all that matters.

I may not have many moments with her like this.  But this one Hallelujah Chorus will be eternal in my heart.

Even the guest narrator, Emmy award winning Joe Morton, acknowledges the power of song this night.  He says, “Tonight, even for one night, this tradition, no matter what you believe, reminds us that Love wins out, that Love is the reality in this magical place, to bring Peace and Unity in this world.”


The performance is over. I don’t want this time to end, but I turn up the walkway to push Mama’s wheelchair up the aisle.

I hear his familiar voice near the stage bellow out…..”Don’t leave!”

Mama and I wheel back towards the stage. In the midst of all those around him, clamoring for his attention, Jeff hustles over for a quick moment.

“You were my inspiration tonight,” he leans over and whispers to Mama. “I was nervous when I first saw your earlier, but seeing you reminded me why I do this, to touch lives and inspire others. Thank you for reminding me.”


Her eyes twinkle, her smile stretches across her entire face as he turns under the lights and walks away, grasping hands, touching lives, touching others, even after the baton is laid down.


mom’s gift

Rites of passage.  This weekend was full of them.

My third son off to his senior prom.

My baby, my daughter gets her driver’s license.

My second son skypes for a while to take a break from studying for finals at college.

And my oldest gives me this gift, a gift that makes every heartache, every tear, every sleepless night worth the cost of being a mom.

This gift, this video that records moments of motherhood, is meant to honor my mother, his grandmother.

But this gift honors every mom I know…every mom who wonders if her little acts of love are noticed.   They are.

Please enjoy this gift, moms, and remember every little act of love are treasures  not only to us, but to our children, even when they are grown.

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old acquaintance

Should old acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne

Through this year’s holiday season of gathering, reflection, change, these words ring true to me much more than a passing chorus.

Bits and pieces of these past days…a house full of teenagers, college students, Christmas cookies being decorated…


My grown kids returning home for the holidays, still looking for reindeer elf and candy and handwritten notes….and wanting all of us to open Christmas presents in onesies…..


A holiday wedding, dear old friends giving away their firstborn daughter, the first baby born among our friends, radiant in her beautiful dress as my husband’s college roommate tearfully walked her down the aisle…


Among all this, my mother,
89 years old
whom we remind, “It’s Christmas morning, Lola,” as my kids climb into bed with her in pajamas,
thinks the new year we are ringing in is 1990.


Scotland.org states the words auld lang syne mean “long, long ago.” The chorus translates to:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And long, long ago.

To live with someone with Alzheimer’s deepens the meaning of this New Year’s traditonal song, for each day lives out someone who has forgotten old acquaintances, faces, names, even the names and faces of the ones who care for her daily

and long, long ago is forgotten.

Yesterday mom asked me if her mom and dad were still around, as she was thinking of going home to the Philippines to take care of them. They have been gone for more than fifty years.

As the last refrains of auld lang syne fade out
and I reflect on the fireworks show bringing in the new year


I will cherish even more the snapshots of this holiday season,

the not so perfectly decorated big fat Christmas tree crashing to the floor


at the very moment a rat was trapped, the one chewing up the engine of my car

20140103-163147.jpg…….screams issuing everywhere …(the tree was eventually restraightened and rescued by  fishing line tied to the door)….

the dozens of homemade decorated Christmas cookies baked for hours and consumed in minutes.


the silly games shared with old friends
the conversations shared with old friends,


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ones whose weddings we stood in
launched careers with,
birthed babies
raised preschoolers, then adolescents
and now watch these very children launch their own careers and share their father/daughter dance.


What’s amazing is that even the kids seem to take in the significance of this……the old acquaintance part….the kids who rode around together in the neighborhood, played for hours in Disney costumes, filmed Star Wars spin off videos, shared picnics in the park…they too want to record the significance of changing moments…



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for as our families shift, grieving losses…

loss of childhood,  loss of control, loss of parents,  evolving parental roles…..and welcome new relationships, and new dynamics in relationships…

our hearts are made bigger as we broaden our family circles, as we hold hands and hug tighter through these seasons of change.

And yes tears are shed as we long for the old days
when our kids held our hands and snuggled
and we laughed and played together.

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Now our laughter is deeper and our tears source from a deeper well
and these friendships

deep, familiar, part of our core

remind me of one of my favorite verses:

for now we see in a glass dimly,
but then we shall see face to face....

I am grateful for these moments of friendship that are full on, face to face….
full of laughter and tears,
full of rejoicing, and loss,
friendships that have spanned over 25 years…

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though someday, these moments may be forgotten,
they will be forever cherished.

My big fat Christmas Tree


I love this tree.
The biggest, fattest christmas tree we have had in years .
I found it at the grocery store leaning on the wall.

I wasn’t there to buy a tree

I was there to run in to do the everyday things, pick up lunchmeat for the kids, grab some milk, wait for prescriptions for mom. I was even in the little car.

But the scent of the fresh pine trees caught me as I walked through the breezeway. I poked along the wall to see the biggest one I could get for the money

I love living in a neighborhood where I know the grocery store attendants. I asked one to find the best 8-9 foot tree he could find. He plopped one out on the sidewalk. A man walking out gave the affirmation: “That’s a great tree!” Sold. But I wasn’t planning on this purchase, and would have to come back to get it since i was in the little car, for the original plan was to pick out a tree together as a family.

Every year we get a fresh tree
despite the trouble of tying it to the top of the car
putting it on the stand
dragging it in the house
making sure it is straight.

It is a joke every year about the tree, that next year we will get an artificial one.

We are not a handy family. Even the simplest things like changing light bulbs are a major ordeal, a major accomplishment in our house.

So to bring in a 9 foot tree into our home, straight, without crashing over, ornaments and all, is a feat in out home.

This year, I cheated…..not only did the attendant pick out the biggest, fattest tree for me, he offered to put it in the stand too….. and on top of that, the store manager offered to throw it in the back of his truck and deliver it to my home!
…….I felt a little guilty,
but hey, they benefitted,
I benefitted,
we all benefitted!

A gift of time, no headache

and a big fat tree sitting straight up in our family room.

A big fat tree too big for the stand, dropping needles all over the tile, and had to be adjusted and restraightened and straightened several times by the kids. Its big fat trunk finally pointed straight up in all its glory

...in this moment, in this middle of midwinter, in the dark of your very thickest thicket, there’s the rough bark of the Tree…  Ann Voskamp


photo (8)This tree and its story how it arrived in my home, gives me a smile and laugh in what started as a bad week. Even though it is warm here in Florida, I had been struggling to find warmth in a darkness, a darkness of doubt and bitterness….

Am I doing the right thing, having my mother here in my home
how has it affected my kids, my marriage, me???

As this disease develops, it will only become worse, and I will distance my heart even more as I watch the progression, as I continue to repeat my words, remind her that my dad has passed, that her mother has passed.

I remember this picture
one of the few photos I have as a child…


my mom reaching for my hand at Christmas.
We didn’t have much then, that’s why there are so few photos.

The few gifts were there in the picture.

But in the sparse surroundings
none of the excess I have now

there was love, hope,
a dream fulfilled, growing,
of coming to a new land of promise,
to live in America
to have a new life
to have a new beginning.

So I press on
to give her a peaceful ending
to surround her with the love she willingly surrounded me with during my beginning

and even though my tendency is to not want to watch this ending
this deterioration
this dwindling

I have to hold fast and return to the hopes of the very small tree of my first Christmas
if there even was one.

Now I look upon my big fat tree in my big fat family room
with boxes of unused ornaments and decorations that haven’t even made it to the tree or to the table or to the door

and reflect on dreams fulfilled, many because of the selflessness and prayers of my mother.

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Life is full.
31 years of ornaments in a box.
Many reflecting milestones, markers in my family…
our first home, our first baby, our trips around the country and the world
markers to be placed on our tree

This year, this big fat tree, even halfway decorated
means more as I read more words from Ann Voskamp…

Advent is the time to see the Tree in your thicket and whisper the echoing words of your God: Now I know. Now I know. Since you did not spare your only Son, how will You not also graciously give us–even me–all things you know I need?

I need peace
to remember am doing the right thing.

I need strength
for I grow weary of this task, this burden, this guilt of feeling that this is a burden even though she was always there for me.

Because of this turmoil in my soul, the Christmas need/ want list is changing for me.

The things I used to ask for…. a new sweater,, something for the house….yes I do still love and enjoy those things….

but this year the list is morphing into different wants…

I want my children to know and trust their future paths
one, career choices,
another, college options,
another, just get through college classes,
another, courage to follow her dreams..

and they all have the gift of an endlessly hardworking father who gives them opportunity to chase those dreams.

My greatest, most precious gift, is that each of them know and love the One that died on that Tree, who was born to us in a manger this Christmas season.


My gift, is the joy of watching each of them grow in their passion for that One, as they live out each day in a world that does not feel the same, yet they shine in their corners of the world where that One has placed them.

My gift, though I don’t always see it, is the depth of the soul of my mother in our home,  living out her days, her love for Jesus remaining despite foggy senses of what is immediately around her.

That is her gift to all of us

to be fully aware of the One above
the one she points to and says she is ready to go
for even though she is not fully aware of date or time or persons or events
she still remains fully aware of Him….

and that is how we all should live.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever….Hebrews 13:8

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