Starry Nite

The evening’s activities put me in mind of the event a year earlier. The tone both similar and worlds apart – a celebration of the start of the Christmas season, but this year without the aching heart and scratchy eyes of the day’s grief. As I walked away, the voices, amplified by microphones, echoed off the trees, the strains of the violin soaring above them.

I walked toward my car, alone in the deserted lot at the far end of campus. The tenor, the alto, and the violin together, haunting echoes of the originals, rode the chilly, crisp air: “O night, O Holy night, O night divine!”

And alone, I wept at the beauty of it all, that the Conqueror came in peace1, on a quiet, holy night, to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; to take upon Himself the chastisement that brought us peace, to turn our sorrow into joy and our mourning into dancing. The power of Death was undone by an Infant born of glory2.

1 Jason Gray. “Easier.” Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.
2 Andrew Peterson. “Gather ‘Round Ye Children, Come.” Behold the Lamb of God.

“There Will be Butterflies.”

I came across the line on the airplane. I had decided only days before the conference to read the book, and here I was, on my way, with half of it left to go. Ah, well, I’d thought. If I don’t finish, I don’t finish. No one will be upset with me.

But then I started reading, and words and phrases jumped off the page at me, rattling my notions of how the world works and reminding me that the God I serve is just as micro as He is macro. That the world of molecules and the world of galaxies are magical places, painted by a Great Artist. That the Great Artist loves and cares for and comforts His people.

And I sat on the airplane, devouring the book, almost grateful for the flight delay as it would give me more time on the tilt-a-whirl.

Then I came to the line. I’m not a margin writer. I don’t generally underline. I avoid dog-earing page corners. I like clean pages and post-it notes. But I have journals full of lines from books, the ones that strike me just right that I can’t set aside, that I must keep and find again. So when I came to the line my first instinct was to dig in my backpack for my journal. And then I reached for a pen…and came up empty-handed.

I had grabbed the essentials – wallet, chapstick, Asian coffee-flavored hard candies – from my purse when I put it into the bag being gate-checked. Somehow I had missed a pen.

I was frozen for a moment, torn over the need to mark the passage and my distaste for marring pages. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at the man next to me. His burly arms were painted with colorful tattoos, his goatee long and frizzled. He read a graphic novel. It was the graphic novel that made me hope. Tattoos and a grizzly goatee might be on a biker guy, and I’d be less likely to expect him to carry a pen. But the graphic novel made me feel a little kinship with the man – though I can’t say I’ve ever read one. I know people who read graphic novels, and I know that they have creative minds and hearts. He might have a pen.

“Excuse me,” I asked, still slightly intimidated by the gauges in the ears and the hipster glasses on his round face. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

The pen was a sea-green Bic with sparkles in the plastic. He was not a cap-chewer. He went back to his graphic novel and I dove back in, to the line, and began writing on the first page of my new journal.

“To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You don’t cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”i


In an instant I was back in a hospital intensive care unit on December second, knowing that the man in the bed would not recover, would never play piano for me again. I was sitting in my sister’s bedroom on April ninth hearing on the phone that a woman I loved and worked with daily had died the evening before, three weeks after the cancer diagnosis. I was at the memorial service on May fifth, thinking of the man who had been my teacher, and watching his wife and children and grandchildren mourn him.

And I thought of what Lisa said when she woke up on that Easter morning that she died. Her sister came into the room and greeted her with, “He is risen.”

Lisa sat up in the bed and said, “He is risen indeed.” Then she gathered her energy enough to speak again. “It’s Resurrection Day, and my boots are in the closet.”

“There will be butterflies.”

And I thought of losing Keren, and losing Aimee, and all the other coffins that have been tragedies. But not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”

If nothing else this weekend at Hutchmoot reminded me of that hope. I serve the Creator God who chose to enter the anthill, the Second Adam who chose to lay down his life fighting the dragon in order to save His bride.ii Whose people create works that point to Him in various ways, like setting a story in a house called Maison Dieu, which is haunted by a Spirit, which welcomes all travelers to the central Chapel where they are reborn.iiiWhose greatest stories plant a signpost at the end that says, “The story goes on that way.”iv

“Death feels so wrong to us because death ends a story that was meant to go on.”v

But this life and these deaths are the foundation for a new work, a new creation, built on the old…

“Our hope is not for a happy ending, but for a happy beginning—a new story.”vi

“There will be butterflies.”


i Wilson, N.D., Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.Thomas Nelson. p. 113

iiWilson, N.D., Ideas presented in session on Adventurous Storytelling and in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.

iiiGoudge, Elizabeth, Pilgrim’s Inn.From Sarah Clarkson’s session on Spiritual Subtext.

ivPeterson, A.S., Idea presented in session on Tales of the New Creation.
vPeterson, A.S., Tales of the New Creation.
viTrafton, Jennifer. Tales of the New Creation.

A Bewildering Reality

Every few hours I find myself clicking this link, and staring at the page, thinking, “Is it really real?”

As one of my coworkers put it today, we’re just dealing with her absence, not with the loss; it hasn’t sunk in yet.

We keep expecting to see her.

And while I don’t want it to be real, I don’t want to never see her again, I know that it is, and I know that I won’t.

I go to Lancaster on Saturday for a service in her honor. I don’t know what it will entail, but I know she planned it in her final days. So I know it’s not going to be focused on her; it will be focused on her Savior.

But I think it will take away a bit of the bewilderment and turn the reality from vapor to solid.

And that won’t be easy. But it will be real. And she loved real things.

Missing Uncle Sam

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

“Christmas is a time of joy,” my boss said yesterday. “I have to keep reminding myself of that.”

It is. A joy tinged with sorrow, as the Man of Sorrows left his throne and came to be born in a manger, knowing he would be the sacrifice that redeemed the world. But a joy nonetheless, because the end result of that sacrifice was resurrection – not just once, but for all who believe.

I’m holding onto the hope of resurrection right now. Holding on to the hope that the Day-spring will put death’s dark shadows to flight. Because they are dark. And they are present. And I ache in the missing him.

“I’m okay,” I keep hearing myself say. “At the moment.”

On the one hand, day-to-day, I didn’t see Uncle Sam much – certainly not compared to his students or his fellow professors of music. But sporadic lunches, quick conversations in hallways or offices, greetings at concerts and events were enough to keep that long-seated friendship fresh, one that had grown from years upon years of relationship with my grandparents, my parents, my sisters, his brothers, his nephews, our shared friends. And now I am left with them all, aching.

He was a musician. I know that. But it’s not like that stood out to me in a unique way – saying Sam Hsu was a musician would be like saying any other person had eyes. It’s a given. His music was so much a part of him that I sometimes didn’t even take note of it.

I know that must seem strange to those who knew him from the world of music. But that wasn’t the world where we overlapped so much. We met more frequently over meals, at family celebrations, or academic discussions. He was my friend, my “uncle”; and my friend came with music in his blood.

He was a friend I was privileged to sit under as a student, enjoying the breadth and depth his knowledge gave to a class that could have been routine. And in between the insights into the music, art, and literature of the western world, were tidbits of great beauty and depth that would flow from him: “He’s experienced a little of me and I’ve experienced a little of him. That’s what friendship is, isn’t it?”

He was a friend who may have been thought somber by those who did not know him well. But they never got to experience the moments of humor that would come from around side – hilariously unexpected. I’ll never forget the day he sat at the keyboard to introduce us to a Russian Romantic composer and paused with his fingers hovering above the keys: “I’m going to show you how the Russians loved,” he said. Then he lowered his hands to the first chord; it struck and faded as he paused again: “I’m not a Russian. I hope you know that.”

I stood at the hospital on Thursday afternoon, looking about me at Uncle Sam’s students who were there, and thinking of those, former and present, who were not. Men and women of God whose passion for music is fueled by their passion for Christ. And I thought: that is what they learned from their teacher. More than fingering, more than history, more than style. They learned Christ-following from one who was, preeminently, a Christ-follower.

I have allowed my mind to swim freely in the lyrics and music of hymns and carols for the past few days, knowing that it is a place he would have loved to be with me. And the joy of Christmas, the beauty of this world, the grandeur and faithfulness of God, the great truths – all of them have resounded over and over to me.

And I will rejoice. For God is with us.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

To read more about Dr. Samuel Hsu, click here.