Thursday, January 24, 2019

Singing--the Joy of My Life

Singing for church in 1965
Singing has been the joy of my life. It has also comforted me in the hard times. Although I am recognized now more for my writing, during my earlier years, I was known for my singing. I majored in vocal music in college.

My family is very musical, especially gifted in singing. In fact, my parents were at the piano in the church sanctuary preparing a special song for the worship service when my father proposed.

My maternal great-grandfather was playing the organ for church by the time he was nine. My mother's father played trombone even into his nineties. My mother's older brother could pick up an instrument and  play it in no time. As captain of a mission boat for many years, he led singing with his accordion and was also quite accomplished on the clarinet, though he had never taken lessons.

My mother had a lovely soprano voice, played the piano and violin, and wrote songs and cantatas, both the words and the lyrics. As a child, I loved to listen to her play the piano and sing hymns to wake us up from our Sunday afternoon naps so we could get ready to go to church that night. In spite of Parkinson's in her later years, she played the piano from her wheelchair until just a few weeks before she died at the age of 89.

My father's father, a basso perfundo (a deep bass), sang in a well-known madrigal group in Philadelphia, as well as in his Methodist church choir. My father, a boy soprano, sang in the prestigious Episcopal Boys Choir in Philadelphia until his voice changed to tenor. He is now 97 and still sings.

My husband and I got to know each other as we sang in the a capella concert choir, the Choir of the North, at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He sang bass and I, soprano. We have sung together throughout our married life. I have served as minister of music in the churches we pastored.

Playing the piano for church in Gloversville
My son and his family have excellent singing voices too. This past Christmas Eve in their home, the whole family sang the Christmas carols a capella in four-part harmony. We sounded like a well-rehearsed choir. All four of my grandsons have starred in the high school musicals and soloed in the choirs. They play guitars and piano.

Me on my first birthday
When I was a year old, my father was studying for the ministry at Eastern Bible Institute (EBI) in Green Lane, Pennsylvania, now the University at Valley Forge. My parents often took me to chapel services with them. My mother told me that whenever the students sang the hymns, I would listen to the words and then belt out each line so loudly that they had to wait for me to finish before they could sing the next line.

My father's parents lived in Philadelphia. Whenever we had a chance, we drove down from EBI to visit them. Every Sunday morning, my grandfather would listen to the coast-to-coast radio broadcast of the Old Fashioned Revival Hour with Dr. Charles Fuller. Every broadcast began with the theme song Dr. Fuller had written,"Heavenly Sunshine." Soon, I was tripping around the house singing, "Heabenly sunshine, heabenly sunshine...."

Heavenly sunshine, heavenly sunshine,
Flooding my soul with glory divine;
Heavenly sunshine, heavenly sunshine,
Hallelujah! Jesus is mine!

As a brother and sister were added to my family, we children began singing a trio in Christmas programs. When I was in kindergarten,  Mother wrote a children's Christmas song for my brother,  sister, and me to sing, "I Wish I Could Have Been There."

I wish I could have been there those many years ago;
I wish I could have been there beside the manger low;
I would have seen the shepherds come to worship Christ their King;
But best of all I would have seen my Savior, Lord, and King.

Verse 2, same as above except for third line:
I would have seen the Wise Men come their offerings to bring.

Verse 3.
I know I couldn't be there those many years ago,
I know I couldn't be there beside the manger low,
But this I know that some day soon beside His throne I'll sing,
And best of all I'll get to see my Savior, Lord, and King!

                                         ©1991 AnnaMae Cousart 

At that time, my parents were operating a children's home in Juneau, Alaska. A young Eskimo woman and her baby lived in the home for a while. She taught us how to sing the chorus, "Into My Heart," in Eskimo. That song had special meaning to me because when I was 5, I asked Jesus to come into my heart.

When our church started a junior choir, I became its most faithful member. One junior choir song that sticks in my memory is "Prayer Is the Key:" "Prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door..."

At the age of 9, I was asked to sing the hymn, "The Way of the Cross Leads Home," my first solo for the Sunday morning worship service. My mother had always felt like her voice had lost a certain quality after I was born. As I sang in church that morning, my father whispered to her, "There's your voice!"

By the time I was 11, I was singing trios with my parents and duets with my junior choir director, as well as solos. My mother began to coach me in singing. When my parents began to pastor churches, they often asked me to sing in services or fill in for my mother on the piano.

I have a 3 1/2 by 5 1/4 inch loose leaf notebook filled with typed words of the solos I sang from my teenage years on through my life. As I look through those songs today, It's like reading a diary of my life. I can still recall when I first sang each song and what it meant to me then. In my next few blog post, I will share some of those stories.

What hymn or song brings back a special memory to you?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Scars and Goals

While looking through my files the other day, I came across something my husband, Bob, wrote 20 years ago. It was a beautiful, warm Wednesday in July, and he had taken a chair outside to sit under a tree near one corner of the building that housed the  church we pastored. As he meditated on the Scriptures, his eyes were drawn to the field full of a variety of wildflowers with a very large, symmetrical tree in the center.
April Fools Blizzard of 1997 Courtesy

His thoughts turned to the tree he was sitting under. Two years previously, it had been severely damaged in the April Fool's Blizzard of 1997. The snow was so wet and heavy that many power lines and trees throughout the Northeast U.S. had come down. Power companies from as far away as Virginia had come to help restore power. In fact, because of roads closed by the storm, my bivocational husband had been stranded for nearly of two days at the Christian radio station where he worked.

A major branch of the tree he was now sitting under had been torn off during that storm, leaving a gaping wound that went clear to the heart of its trunk. When the damaged part was removed, a third of the tree was gone.

Amazingly, when spring came that year, the tree flowered, but the raw wound was still obvious. Two years later, however, my husband would never have known that the tree had suffered such damage if he hadn't seen it himself. If he looked for it, though, he could find the huge scar on the trunk. The scar is enveloped in the beauty of its flowers and leaves.

In only a few days after the blizzard, our church experienced a major storm that nearly destroyed it. The damage to the congregation was considerable. Yet, it survived and became strong again.

Most people have scars in their lives too. Many live in a way that displays their open wounds to the world. People want to avoid them.

Others do not call attention to their wounds. Instead, they have allowed Christ to heal them so their scars become part of their inner beauty that points to the scars Jesus bears in His hands and feet for us. We can share the gospel to great effect by the way we reveal our scars.

Bob suggests that perhaps the purpose of our scars is to understand His scars. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 (NKJV):

"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings." .

Then in verses 12-14, Paul laid out the goal for our lives:

"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

That's my goal for this New Year: that my scars will help me understand how much He suffered for my salvation and that I will continue to press on to maturity in the faith, bringing others with me.