Welcome to my Blog

This Blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences as a music therapist and human being working with people at the end of their lives in hospice. In my experience I have seen some amazing things- things that have given me a glimse of something bigger. I have learned that in our suffering, in our doubt, there is also room for beauty and a deeper sense of the divine. Music taps into the rhythms of the earth and at the same time transcends it. I want to share my experiences from the past and from each day moving forward. Hopefully one or two people will find it interesting. Please visit my Web-sites at http://www.nielsenmtbc.com/ or http://www.musictherapycd.com/

Please note that I take client confidentiality very seriously. Names and sometimes other details have been changed to protect the identities of my clients.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Waiting for the Light

This was a message I've delivered a few times for "Blue Christmas" or "Service of the Longest Night" services. It seems even more appropriate to share in light of recent tragic events.

Joy to the World…
Deck the Halls with boughs of Holly…
We Wish you a Merry Christmas…
Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…
You better not cry… I’m tellin’ you why…
These are the messages that surround us at Christmas
Messages that we should be happy- that no matter what we are feeling,
No matter what we have been through
We should just get over it and be happy
A message mixed with another message- a message of consumption
A message that if we just buy this toy or that big screen TV or that piece of jewelry we can make the ones we love happy
That we can make ourselves happy
So what happens when it’s not enough?
What happens when material goods cannot fill the empty places?
Joy to the World… but how can we be joyful when we have lost someone we’ve love?
Deck the Halls with boughs of Holly… but how can we do that when it hurts too much to move?
We wish you a Merry Christmas… but I’m just too sad every day, why should today be any different?
Have a Holly Jolly Christmas- How can I do that if I am diagnosed with a serious life-threatening disease?
You better not cry… I’m tellin’ you why… But how can Santa come to town when I’ve lost my job?
How can we talk about heavenly peace in a world of war, in a world where bridges fall down, in a world where there is poverty and disease, in a world that can sometimes seem so broken?
What if we want the perfect "White Christmas",
But we are left with this aching, imperfect "Blue Christmas?"

Where do we find light when we are surrounded in darkness?

We remember another time of darkness when the world waited for its light.
Jesus did not come into a happy world of sugar plums and tinsel
He did not come to a world of ornaments and presents
He did not come to a world where we wait in the dead of night for a $299 laptop computer
-or an Ipad
He came to a world where people searched the night sky for a sign of hope
He came into a world filled with darkness, oppression, and tyranny
A world of those who had and those who had not
A world of sickness and disease

Think of the frightened young mother having to explain her pregnancy to her fiancé
Think of this young couple with child, having the burden to travel great distance
Only to have this child born in a dirty barn
Remember the tyranny of a king, willing to kill children for fear that one child could threaten his power
The family of refugees that had to flee their homeland so that their child would not be killed.
It is the story of one sent to bring peace, but who was sentenced to death.
Of light that was brought to the darkness, but that the world tried to snuff out
But that light shone in the darkness… in the form of a child, and a star shining in the east
A light of healing for the sick

A light to free the oppressed and sick at heart
The light of God’s love and acceptance
A light of forgiveness
A light to make us whole when we are broken
A light that transformed the world

Who were the first to see and feel this light as it shone around them?
It wasn’t kings or heads of state
It was not the rich and comfortable
It was a group of poor shepherds watching their flock in the cold night
Wise men and kings came later, following this light
And this light would shine for thousands of years, despite so many attempts to put it out,
…and those that would exploit that light

Tonight we are as these shepherds and wise men were
Feeling alone and in the cold
We feel the pain of loss, the pain of despair, the pain of living in darkness
We search these long nights for the same hope
Tonight we will light these candles, not just as a representation of what we have lost or the pain we feel
But as the light of our hope, no matter how small
Jesus did not come to promise us a perfect world
But to promise us that there is always hope, even through the darkest night
To set an example that we should care for others as we would want to be cared for
To remind us that, even when we are lost and suffering, even when we are dying,
He is there, and that we are surrounded by His multitude of angels

If we step away from all the noise of the holiday season
And take time to listen to the Silent Night
Just as a child listens in wonder for the sound of hooved feet
We just might hear it
We just might hear the voice of the angels speaking to us
If we take time to listen to our hurt and pain and not hide it away
Then we give ourselves the chance to be transformed

We can’t ignore this these feelings of pain
Right now, for whatever reason, we need to embrace the feelings of pain we feel.
We need to make this tree, these feelings of sadness or frustration-  a part of ourselves
We need to honor those feelings
and honor this part of ourselves in order to find our way back to the Christmas of Joy
Just as Jesus honored the pain of those he healed.
We read in John that later in his life, when the disciples asked him who sinned to make the man blind, Jesus said:

 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned… but this (blindness) happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

The gift of Jesus is that it is not about our sins and wrongdoings
But rather it is about allowing the light of hope into the world and into ourselves
Through this gift given to us by God the world was transformed
And we can be transformed as well
And through that transformation we can be healed, we can be whole, we can be free
Free to accept this gift so silently given
The gift of new life, new light, and of resurrection and rebirth.
The gift not of boxes and tags and bows
But the gift of eternal and ever renewing life.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I’m Voting No: Because Life’s too short

I have worked with people near the end of their lives for well over a decade in our community through my hospice work. I have laughed, cried, prayed, sung, and worshipped with people of almost every denomination and church in our area during a very sacred time- a time of loss and healing. While this work can sometimes be hard, it has taught me many lessons and given me a lot of perspective on life, love, death, and the next life. It has taught me to treasure every moment, because we don’t know how long our time on this earth will be. It’s taught me that we are not Democrats or Republicans, we are not black or white: we enter into this life as a child of God, and when the time comes God calls us back as his children- loved and forgiven. This work has also given me a unique perspective on an issue that deeply troubles me. I want to share with you what is on my heart in a way that is kind and respectful. I don’t wish to debate interpretation of Old Testament scripture. I recognize that people of good faith can read and interpret things differently. I know that my guiding principle in life is to love God and love all others as the highest commandment.

In my time I have worked with clients who were gay and lesbian. I have seen firsthand the very deep hurt that many of these people have experienced in their lives. They have lived with a lifetime of bullying; they are sometimes rejected and abandoned by family and friends, and have faced a life of inequality simply for who they are. This hurts people in ways that run so deep. It destroys self-esteem and self-worth and creates scars that sometimes never go away- even 30, 40, 50+ years later. It is a pain I can tell you many people take to their graves.

As a straight male, I don’t understand homosexuality. In being honest, the thought still makes me uncomfortable. Years ago my father, a Methodist Minister was assigned to a church in Minneapolis that welcomed people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender. The first time I sat down in a church so open about this, and realized I was sitting next to a transgender person, I became extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t understand why it was so important for “those people” who are gay to be open about who they were. But in time, as I prayed and worshipped with these people, as I listened to their hurts and their struggles I came to realize that “those people” were really no different from me. In their hopes and dreams, in their everyday lives, and in their love of God, they were really no different. The day my new-born son was baptized in that church, I looked around that sanctuary and realized that family and faith were every bit as important to them as it was to the people there who were straight.

I’ve since come to understand that God often places us in positions of discomfort as a way to challenge us to see beyond ourselves- to help us grow.

Despite my discomfort back then, I have since had the privilege to know many people who are gay and lesbian who are people of deep compassion and great moral character. I know that who they are is not a choice. If you know people who are gay then you would also know this is not a choice. I’ve grown to see that what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is not what matters, rather it’s about the content of their character. I can tell you with no discomfort now that I love my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, even though I will never completely understand their sexuality.  “Those people” are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. They deserve the same right to family and happiness as any of us.

I know people who are progressive who say that conservatives are hateful. After living, working, and serving with many conservative people in this community, I wholeheartedly reject that notion. In my conservative friends I have seen such great compassion and willingness to do anything to help ease the suffering of another human being- even for those who are different. We all have differences in our experience that affect the way we see the world. I pray we can all conduct ourselves in love, kindness, and open-mindedness as we discuss this issue. Judging and yelling at each other isn’t helpful on either side.

We face the decision to amend our constitution to permanently remove the rights of an entire group of people- a constitution that was devised to protect freedoms, not take them away. This amendment also threatens the religious freedom of those who believe deeply in marriage equality. Many faith communities are working against this amendment for this and other reasons. More importantly this amendment imposes one religious view and turns it into law. History has shown that this is never a good thing- especially in a democracy. There is already a law that prohibits gay marriage. Laws are things that we live by in a democracy. They are also something that we can change as our understanding grows and changes. They are something we can continue to discuss. This amendment will end that discussion and will curtail the freedoms of generations. It relegates a whole group of people to second-class citizenship. Is this really something we need to do?

I want to respectfully ask you to consider voting no on this amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman. I ask you to give this another thought, to listen to your heart, to pray, and consider what impact this amendment might have on other families- on people you don’t even know. Is this a government intrusion we really want? If you are voting for this amendment because you believe homosexuality is a sin, I ask, is it not also a sin to further marginalize a whole group of people, to push them out of the American dream? Is that really consistent with family values- with Minnesota values- with American values? Is it right to impose our individual beliefs on others by amending our state constitution? And lastly I ask, isn’t life too short and precious to be limiting others in who they can and can’t love and commit their lives to?

“ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “(Matthew 25:40)