I am a believer in the divine hand of God having vested interest in our lives. I don’t think, by any means, that he controls us. On the contrary, his finest gift to us is our ability to make choices for ourselves. And because he gave us that gift, he also gave us the remedy for the mistakes that distance us from home. I carry his name as a Christian.
I remember when my kids were little and wanted to pick their own clothes. For a while I gave them free reign to their closets and drawers. But after a while I realized it would be better for all of us if I narrowed the options. Maybe God parents that way. Maybe he limits our options. When we moved to Utah decades ago, an option Dave and I had never considered for our family, there was a pivotal and memorable moment for me when I first heard the voice of Merlyn Schofield. It stunned me, making me immediately stop what I was doing and listen. It still moves me that way, after all these years. This could be a problem, because what she sings is harmony to my melody, and stopping to listen wouldn’t work. We have shared so much of life together. I remember one day, when we lived at the old house over 20 years ago, rehearsing in our family room. When I wrote a new song, Merlyn listened with, well…with a sort of reverence, like she understood how important this was to me and she wanted to give it her whole-hearted attention. She has always been so thoughtful, so encouraging, and “got” what I meant to say in my songs and in my life. We would repeat the song over and over as she created harmony, learning the lyric, weaving her voice in and out in a supportive way.
It was an autumn day, and the warmth of the sun washed through the large window in my family room. Merlyn sat on one couch, and I sat on the other. We sang, we talked, and we sang again. Eventually I found myself, in my typical afternoon sleepies, flopped over on the couch, my legs up, my guitar balanced on my chest. Before we knew it we were both asleep. I remember waking up and looking over at my friend and realizing that we had crossed that threshold, where politeness kept a little chasm between people, guarding their hearts. We had crossed over to the place where we could fall asleep in front of each other, sometimes mid-sentence.
|Merlyn and me - yesterday in my kitchen.|
Merlyn has seen her share of sorrow. Much of it is clear to the onlooker. And much is hers to carry in private. She bears all of it with dignity, but not neglect. It’s a mistake for us humans to neglect our sorrows. They are important to defining and creating us. The trick is to put them in their proper place. Merlyn found a way to take joy, even in struggle. She is an inspiration to me.
Almost five years ago Merlyn became a widow. Kevin’s body acquired an infection that would not let go, and it eventually took his life. It was so unexpected, and he was so young. They had no children, and I suspect the relative amount of quiet in her life had to be deafening. We wept, and texted through sleepless nights, and talked, though texting was less taxing.
For years she had been unable to sing, her rheumatoid arthritis having affected her vocal cords. It had nearly broken my heart when she stopped singing. My whole musical career, as a performer, had included her, and I quite literally defined myself as half of a duo. It took some mighty prayer, and encouragement from a blessed few, for me to get up the gumption to go on stage alone. My friend Carla learned harmonies, even though she is actually a lead singer with powerful songs of her own. I know she did this under inspiration, and I thank her for that. And my daughter Kate, grown into a fabulous singer, stepped up and learned harmonies as well. Without them, and Mark Robinette, I don’t believe I would still be singing and writing.
For years I begged Merlyn to consider coming to sing just one song at my Christmas concerts. Our audience knows her voice, if only from recordings, and it would be so sentimental to have her beside me again. For years she was unable to approach the possibility. Then, after Kevin died, and after she retired from school teaching, she started coming over to dinner every Sunday evening. Our renewed sisterhood strengthened, and her vocal cords rested since she didn’t have to teach every day. Then my mom fell ill. Irreparably ill. Merlyn came to sit vigil with us in the hospital. Of course we had our guitars there, and when the songs rolled out, so did her harmonies. When mom was brought home on hospice care, Merlyn sat with us there. For hours on end we sang, and she realized that those notes were still there, stored in her heart, and her vocal cords decided to let them rise up. When Merlyn is beside me singing, I feel a complete safety I feel her heart rising and falling with the music, and I feel the presence of my mother. No wonder I love to sing with her!
Now, time rolling forward as it does, we are excited to be planning a wedding. Merlyn will be wearing the dress. Kent is one lucky fellow! I am trying to brace myself for her to move down to Santaquin, 93.5 miles south of here. He loves her, and she loves him, and I feel peace in their decision and confidence their future, but goodness me, that is too far away for Sunday dinners and low paying gigs!
Yesterday we celebrated the March 5th birthdays for Sarah and me. Merlyn gave me a card in which she had written, in her beautiful script, this sentiment:
With it was a Smith’s grocery gift card. She had written that it was to be used to “feed the 5000”. It was an allusion to our sometimes massive dinner gatherings, and it was a reference to our united faith in our Lord.
Today’s recipe is one given to me by my friend, Julie Clements. It’s a tasty pasta salad that makes a massive amount for a crowd. It’s good on a plate over a crisp leaf of lettuce, or in a croissant as a sandwich. We have served it at many a bridal shower. Perhaps, Merlyn, we should consider it for the wedding?
FEED THE 5000 PASTA SALAD
3 - 8 oz. pkgs. of large "sea shell" pasta
OR about 24 oz. of large "shel-roni" pasta
1/4 c. chopped green onion
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
6 c. cooked and cubed chicken breast
2 c. chopped celery
2 large cans crushed pineapple, drain juice and reserve in a separate bowl
2 c. diced red apples (soak apples in reserved pineapple juice for a few minutes, then drain - to help avoid browning)
2 c. red grapes, halved
1/2 c. cashews
salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until slightly tender. Drain water and cool pasta. Put in large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients.
1 c. mayonnaise
1 - 8 oz. bottle of Kraft coleslaw dressing
OR make this recipe:
2 c mayo, ¼ c cider vinegar, ¼ c sugar. Add ½ t celery seed if you have it. Mix well
Mix together and serve. After a day or so, add more dressing to moisten it up a bit. This should easily keep in the fridge for three days.