By Christine Jeske

I'll Be Singing

Two weeks before I started graduate school, I lay in bed crying. We had just moved into a new house, but the land included jungles of weeds and forests needing more pruning and thinning than I could imagine completing in a year of weekends. I replayed in my mind a hopeless scene from earlier in the day of my husband hacking with a machete through what was supposed to be our garden.

All of life felt like a jungle of weeds with no clear path through. My two children would start a new school in the fall, and yesterday we had gone to the district registration day. There we learned that the school we requested was full, so were on a waiting list and might not know until the day before school started which school they would attend.

Meanwhile a thousand uncertainties remained unsettled as I returned to graduate school after six years. I wondered when and how I would get access the university libraries, and whether to bike, bus, motorcycle, scooter, or drive to campus. Would I find time to continue blogging, cooking slow meals, having dates with my husband, and teaching my children piano? When I did my undergraduate degree at the same university, there were still card catalogs in the library. Now I would float in the ocean of online research possibilities that eighteen-year-olds understood better than I did. I was on a waiting list for a course I needed to take to keep my funding, and I awaited emails from professors to solve the problem. The advisor I had requested when I applied to graduate school had retired unexpectedly just after I applied. I had been assigned to an advisor whose studies had little in common with my interests, but I had enjoyed our few conversations thus far. Then today, to top off all my uncertainties, I had received an email saying this advisor was also leaving the university.

Sometimes God sticks an egg beater into your life and shakes it all up.

As I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself, I tried to shift my self-pity toward gratitude by remembering what God had accomplished in my family’s lives over the last weeks and months. We had finally bought our first house after months of waiting. My husband had completed one year in a job with InterVarsity that felt like a perfect fit. Getting into the graduate school of my choice was no small victory for which to thank God. As I thought about what I could be grateful for regarding my children, the scene that came to mind was of my daughter practicing piano earlier that day.

She had just started a new level piano book and sat down with me to play a song she had been practicing over the past week. When she finished, I asked her to play the song again without music. I knew she had not memorized the song, but the melody was one we had sung together since she was tiny. I wanted her to develop her confidence in picking out melodies by ear.

At first she started playing the song by rote, plunking out the keys with hardly a thought, remembering them almost subconsciously like spelling the word “the.” Then she hit a measure she didn’t know. She played one wrong note and suddenly panicked. Trying to calm her, I sang the measure to remind her, “Lightly row, lightly row. . . .”

She didn’t listen. She drooped her shoulders, whacked her hands on the keyboard, and sobbed. “I don’t know it!”

I waited a moment and then said sternly, “Okay, stop crying.”

She looked at me, tears streaking her face.

“I know you don’t know it. “ I told her. “That’s exactly why I chose this for you. This is what you’re supposed to learn. I didn’t want you to just play the whole song by memory. I wanted you to learn to pick it out note by note.”

“But how can I do that if I don’t know it?” she protested.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll sing along. Whenever you don’t know the next note, just listen, and I’ll be singing. You sing along with me, and you’ll find the notes to play.”

She started the song over. This time when we hit the measure she didn’t know, we sang it over a few times together while she plunked keys without beating herself up over the wrong notes. Eventually she would find the right notes and play the measure through while we sang along. When she finished, she grinned her widest, most dimpled smile. Later in the day she even returned to the piano and spent an extra half hour practicing piano beyond what was assigned in her lesson.

So here I was at night hearing God say the same thing I had told my daughter. Of course you don’t know what’s coming. That’s exactly why I chose this for you. This is what you’re supposed to learn. I didn’t want you to just live by rote. I wanted you to have to pick out the way by listening.

And as I thought of all my protests to God, all my uncertainties about choosing classes, finding time, finding advising, studying, and all that comes with a new graduate school experience, I heard God reassure me. Don’t worry. Just listen and sing along with me. Whenever you feel afraid, just listen, and I’ll be singing.

About the Author

Christine Jeske has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches anthropology at Wheaton College. She has lived in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa and authored two books, Into the Mud: True Stories from Africa and This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. She now lives in an old farmhouse named the Sanctuary, complete with a dozen chickens, three pigs, innumerable weeds, two children, and one wonderful husband.  

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