Recorded at the International Christian Assembly, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 2015.
There’s a mysterious power in tones and rhythms; a sort of shortcut to the soul.
Sometimes, music can take us to places that words alone never could.
Often, I need a Soundtrack of Sorrow to more fully feel. Grief and loss can stay bound up behind to-dos and busyness and noise. But music suspends the shoulds and lets me grieve. It gives a whole rest.
The Bible itself contains these types of soundtracks: Psalms of Sorrow and expressive Laments. They are powerful, emotive, and not to be dismissed.
Mourning is a deeply human, soul-level response to The Fall and its repercussions: death, separation, loneliness. And sometimes, to deal with all that, I need music.
What’s on your Soundtrack of Sorrow? Here are a few of the tracks on mine…
These choices might not make sense to you. That’s ok, ’cause they’re on my Soundtrack of Sorrow, not yours. These songs remind me of my mother, and when I listen to these tracks, I see her at the piano, or sitting on the couch with her worn-out guitar. I see her crying in the kitchen after the death of her third baby.
These tracks remind me of my dad. Of happy times long since gone, and lazy Saturdays with grass and baseball; they remind me of Casey’s cookies and how he always bought a Butterfinger and a Diet Coke.
Over time, I’ve added songs to the list. Songs unknown to my parents but deeply known to me:
This last one was sort of my mom’s cancer anthem. As I drove her back and forth from oncology appointments, we listened to Fernando Ortega. My dying mother in the front seat next to me, my baby brother in his car seat in the back. Not your normal teen experience, but it was mine.
Do you have a Soundtrack of Sorrow? What’s on it?
Purchase the Kindle version of A-41 here.
Purchase the print edition here.
Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:
“What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!”
If you want to save a couple bucks and you don’t mind clicking a ton of links, most of the content can be read by clicking the various links below. Merry Christmas!
Thanks for stopping by!
all for ONE,
Parenthood & Third Culture Kids
– On Your High School Graduation: A Letter to My Third Culture Kid
– What I Want to Give My TCKs
– A Prayer for My Third Culture Kids
– 3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
– 3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
– The Little Word That Frees Us
– Particle Physics Finally Explains Third Culture Kids!
– The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
– Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)
– Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)
– Trailing Spouse: He Heard, “Go!” and I Said, “No!”
– 3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
– A Letter to Singles
On Grief, Loss, and Being Really Sad
– Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
– Grief on a Spindle (a poem)
– Don’t be afraid of me, please (and other lessons from the valley)
– A Lonely Birthday
– For the times when you hold back the tears
– When Grief Bleeds
– When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
– A Sorrow Sandwich
– Heaven and Human Trafficking
Deeper Musings on Missions and “The Call”
– Why Are We Here?
– The Idolatry of Missions
– Before You Cry “Demon!”
– Demon and Divine
– What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
– How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?
Lists (because they’re fun)
– 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
– 10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
– 6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
– 10 Ways to Survive Your First Year Overseas
On making decisions with your head and your heart and Him
– Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
– When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
– To the ones who think they’ve failed
– Distractions and the Voice of Jesus
Things you should probably be aware of if you’re even slightly interested in missions, serving somewhere in the Church, or just living in general
– Four Tools of Spiritual Manipulators
– How to Communicate so People Will Care
– Facebook lies and other truths
– margin: the wasted space we desperately need
– Please Stop Running
– I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs
– How to Transition to the Foreign Field and not Croak: Six Essential Steps
– Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)
– What To Do About Women’s Roles
– Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know
– The Journey To Feel Starts Small
I swim in the abyss of memories. People and places I cannot return to, and few know.
It is a morass I voluntarily enter, knowing it will hurt, but needing it still. Someone should remember these things.
Birthdays used to be happy occasions, full of cake and memories of years gone by. Now, birthdays are just full of memories of years gone. And places gone. And people gone.
Home, once lost, can never be regained. Another home can be built, to be sure, but what has been cannot be again. It is gone.
There is hope. But hope for the future does not remove loss from the past.
When does one grow up and forget their childhood? Thirty-five? Eighty-five? I think never. Something deep and strange happens when the heart goes back. When pictures show you things you remember feeling more than seeing. Like the faded painting on the wall – of water fowl and cattails — that I haven’t thought of in decades. My mom loved that painting. It feels peaceful, silently overwatching a family grow up, and then leave.
Another picture shows my late mom and dad in the kitchen, but what I see is the blue metal bowl with white speckles. It was part of the country kitchen I grew up in, the one with glass doors looking out upon green, or brown, or white, depending on the season. I see that bowl and hear the clank of metal spoon upon metal bowl, and I feel at home. No one else had metal bowls.
Oh how mysterious is the snapshot that elicits such emotions!
I look at the photos slowly, seeing the details. Looking for the background. The memories swarm, and I let them. Something deep within is washed by these shadows of what was. I need this cleansing. I need to remember my moorings.
I won’t be getting a call from my mom on my birthday. She won’t be telling me she’s proud of me, or asking about the grandkids. I won’t hear about how her journey with God is growing and changing.
My dad won’t ask about my work or ministry. We won’t talk about books or hawks or how tall the grass is.
A Pacific separates me from siblings. Time separates me from everything else.
For the time being, I am time’s subject. Moving at its pace, regardless. But time is God’s subject, and at the end of all things, time itself will be changed, and we will reign with him “forever and ever.” Time’s thermodynamic authority will be renounced, along with its painful propensity to separate. No longer will time rob and decay, slowly pulling like gravity on the soul.
God will finally do something I never could, although I was told to often enough. He will redeem time.
And he will relocate.
In a physical, undeniably earthly way, he will come home.
“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)
And when he gets here, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)
He’s longing for home too.
So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.
I will never go home again. Until I do.
And that home will last forever, and not just in snapshots and pixels. It will last forever, in three-dimensional space, because of him. And all those longings, elicited by memories of home, will in turn be satisfied.
I will belong, with my own place at the table.
I will be at peace.
I will be wanted. There will be a mutual desire for presence. I will desire to be with God, and he will desire to be with me.
And then I’ll find my mom and dad and a blue metal bowl, and we’ll sit and talk forever about work, and grandkids, and maybe even grass.
And we will be,
This past weekend my extended family celebrated my Grandma’s life and mourned her death. I couldn’t be there in person, so I sent my love through this letter, and my mom read it at the funeral. I’m sharing it now for any of my family who wants to read it. I love you all and am missing you desperately at this time. ~Elizabeth
I remember polka music. I remember dancing. I remember ancient family photos on the staircase, and current family photos on the book case. How I would stare at those pictures, as though I could absorb the family history by osmosis. I remember seeing pictures of Grandma as a young woman and thinking she had the most beautiful face I had ever seen. She was prettier than the prettiest model in my eyes (and probably in Grandpa’s eyes too!).
I remember kolaches and rolickies and hoska. How I would gorge myself on the delicious Bohemian dough that Grandma always baked to perfection. I remember her Duck and Dumpling. How I adored those potato dumplings. And I remember the apples — apples every year, and oh how I balked at eating their skins.
I remember their house being such a hot place on Christmas Eve, stuffed as it was with all those people, the kitchen heated to the boiling point with noodle soup. (The stairs to the basement, however, were still cold.) I remember waiting, just waiting, to graduate from kid tables in the dining room to adult tables in the kitchen. And I remember how long the dishes took after dinner, with all the aunts washing and drying and talking together.
The Musels were this big, loud, happy Catholic family, and I loved it. Grandma and Grandpa’s home felt like my home too, while my parents and sisters and I wove our way around the States and around the world. At Grandma’s, cousins were like brothers and sisters, and being at her house meant playmates never being far away. I remember loving her front porch, the most amazing porch in the world. It was covered and large enough to play house on, large enough to play Red Light Green Light from. And it was large enough to host scads of stair step cousin photographs.
I remember Grandma and Grandpa’s 45th wedding anniversary. I remember the hall and the candles and that beautiful surprise slide show and the music that accompanied it. To this day I can’t hear “What a Wonderful World” without thinking of Grandma and Grandpa. And it was always Grandma and Grandpa together in my mind, not separated as they’ve been these last 15 years. How these 15 years must have hurt. How she must have ached.
It’s been hard to be away these last 3 ½ years. I’ve missed weddings and holidays. I’ve watched photographs of the family appear on Facebook. I’ve rejoiced that I’m part of a family who still loves each other enough to get together. I’ve also mourned the loss of nearness and togetherness for myself. When I went away, I didn’t know if I would see Grandma again. I knew she was getting older and that my last goodbye to her might be my very last. But still, I hoped it wouldn’t be; I hoped to see her again.
None of us knew this past 4th of July would be Grandma’s last time to gather her family around her and love them. She looked good. She looked happy and healthy and as beautiful as ever. Those pictures make it hard to accept that this really happened, that I really have to say goodbye. I wish I didn’t have to say goodbye from far away. I wish I could say goodbye in person. This goodbye won’t be forever; I know that. We will meet again. And I’m sure when we do, it’ll be over fresh poppy seed kolaches and the music of the Christmas Polka.
Today Jonathan is pondering grief over at A Life Overseas. . .
Grief is a powerful thing, echoing on and on through the chambers of a heart.
Loss singes the soul, and death does indeed bite.
We are not the only ones who grieve, to be sure, but those who’ve lived abroad certainly know this to be true: it hurts to leave. It hurts to return. And when others leave, whether by death or call or transfer, that hurts too.
Our stories are the ones written with contrails, straddling continents and seas. And these stories, the good and the bad, the ones that heal and the ones that hurt, must be written. And remembered.
You can finish reading the post here.