Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Thinking more about Chip Stam

My mind is full of memories these days.  When someone passes away, I love nothing more than to reminisce about them.  I think many people in my church felt this way -- the night Chip died, it seemed that Facebook was flooded with Cliftonites and former members posting thoughts, videos, and memories of this dear man.  We had a little online memory fest, and so many quotes that were posted I could hear coming right from Chip's mouth, in his tone and style.  

I don't have any pictures of my own to add to the mix, but I did want to pull out a few memories, things that I have tucked away in my mind as special and significant.  Here are some ramblings in no particular order:

1. One Sunday night Chip led us in the song based on the poem by William Cowper "God Moves in a Mysterious Way".  He said something along the lines of "you can't sing along this time unless you have suffered and seen the Lord to be faithful" (I think he was semi-joking).  At that point, I felt like I had not actually ever suffered in my life, and realized that the words we were singing weren't as significant to me as they were to him.  As time moved on, however, this song became one of the most significant songs I knew.  Shortly after my mom died, I read a biography of John Newton that told in depth about the poem Cowper penned and the truth of God's sovereignty over human suffering resounded in my heart as never before.  Over the course of the next several months, when I was gripped with fear these words would come to mind when I needed them most, for instance when Susie's heart rate dropped while I was in labor.  I am so thankful for Chip teaching me not only this incredibly precious song, but how to embrace the truth in its words while in the midst of trial.

2. My first service back to Clifton after my mom died, Chip led the congregation in "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and told a story about its author, Thomas Chisholm.  Chip's grandfather knew Chisholm back when they were both Gideons, and told about how this man had become nearly destitute as he cared for his ailing wife.  How sweet the words to that chorus were -- "all I have needed Thy hand hath provided".  My sisters and I had sung this song to my mom while she was in the intensive care unit just a few weeks before, and singing it with my church family that night, I felt as though the words were bursting from my soul.  Indeed, the Lord had provided the faith and grace I needed to walk through that dark valley.

3. Being in choir.  REALLY wish I could have a memory session with so many friends who have moved away about the zany shenanagins that went on under Chip's leadership. . . often due to his leading.  He never ceased to crack me up with his careful use of words when we were singing TERRIBLY (Chip was so talented, and really had to deal with quite a ragtag choir at times!).  If someone slipped in without their binder of music, and just tried to look off someone else, Chip would berate them with the comment "I hate sharing!" Hahahaha!!!  We all loved it when Chip would get off track and start telling stories or reading limmericks or dancing with his wife.  It was flattering to be the one he teased or praised or welcomed back after a time away from rehearsals.  I loved it when he would call me to ask me to read Scripture or light the Advent candle in an upcoming service -- I have one such voicemail saved on my phone from recent months in which Chip cheerfully told me to call him at home, since he was home from the hospital, but felt like he'd been run over by a train.  Wow.  LOVE that guy.  The other night I told Josh I wished so bad to have back one of those Wednesday nights of rehearsal just to experience it again.

4. When my grandmother died, I e-mailed Chip to tell him we'd have to miss the Christmas communion service because we were driving to her funeral.  His e-mail reply was precious, and the fitting words have remained with me all this time "May Christ be your portion".

5. Chip's cap -- somehow Chip lost his scholar cap that he wore for every graduation and convocation service on campus.  And for several years, I was in the process of getting him a new one.  SOMEHOW every time one came in, it would not fit.  Too big, too small, yada yada.  He would borrow his daughter Clara's high school mortarboard to use in the meantime, or we'd lend him one of the extra rental caps with pink tassels.  Sometimes he'd try to remove the little year charm attached to the tassel, sometimes he'd just leave it there.  Oh my.  How did we NEVER take care of that cap situation?  Not that he seemed to mind too much!  It was all a big joke, always one more hurdle to jump over in our path to finding a cap that fit!  

6. Fast e-mailer -- in recent years and months when Chip was going to the clinic or in the hospital frequently, you could count on his e-mail replies coming in about 90 seconds.  I must say, I really appreciate that sort of speed.  I found an old e-mail in which he must have responded to me in record time because I said to him "Wow, that was the world's fastest reply."  I can only imagine the scores of people who have received answers from Chip via e-mail in this fashion.

7. Singing and playing -- love this video of Chip and Doris singing love songs together last year at our church's Valentine talent show.  Not only is it cute and funny, it shows a bit of his musical talent.

Thanks for walking down memory lane with me a little.  If you have a good Chip memory to share, please post it here!  I'd love to hear it! 


Carrie said...

I love your memories Gretchen!

I'll never forget one Sunday morning shortly before Christmas. We were singing "O Come, O Come Immanuel" that morning - one of my favorite Christmas carols. Chip would often give the musicians two pieces of music - one for your particular instrument and one from the hymnal or whatever so you could see the words and sing along when you weren't playing. This particular Sunday, we stopped between each verse of the song for Scripture reading. I was not supposed to come in until the third stanza and I was supposed to play this majestic "Rejoice! Rejoice!" on my trumpet. I did. However, I forgot that I had the hymn sheet in front of me rather than the trumpet music, which is written in a different key. So here I play, boldly and majestically, in the WRONG key. I just kept playing, because that seemed less disruptive than for me to just stop. So it was just Chip singing and me playing the trumpet. I was mortified. After crying like a baby from my embarrassment during the entire remaining portion of the service, I went up to Chip after the postlude to apologize for my negligence (still crying) and he grabbed me in the biggest bear hug, and laughing that contagious uninhibited laugh of his, told me over and over (and over) that it was really o.k. Of course, that did make me cry harder, but then I was crying because of how kind he was being to me when I really made what I thought was a huge mistake.

I'm with you - what I wouldn't give for one more choir rehearsal with Chip! I wish I could remember more of his hilarious antics as well.

Jaime Gray said...

Me too!!!!!!!

Rachel said...

Gretchen, thanks so much for sharing!

I also have so many memories of Chip, thought I'd share a few...

When I showed up to audition for the music school in 2000, Chip had just arrived himself. I went into a room for a sightsinging/ear training test and he was there, HUGE grin on his face, laughing about how he was just along for the ride (since other more senior music profs were in the room) as he beat time on the edge of the desk with his baton. Funny!

Also, very early one Saturday morning in 2002 I was preparing to audition in Lexington at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. I was first on the schedule and knew I had an hour and a half drive before I got there, so it would be best if I could warm up my voice BEFORE I even left. However, when I showed up at the music school at 6:30 am, the doors were completely locked. What to do! In a moment of inspiration, I remembered Chip and Doris' encouragement: "come over anytime!" I drove to their house and knocked on the door. The dogs came bounding and soon enough here was Chip, wearing a sweatshirt and hair sticking up all over, opening the door. I tried to hurridly explain and ended in a rush, "So may I warm up here?" He looked at me for just a split second and then said, "Of course, of course, come right in! I'll just make some coffee!" He thought I actually needed to get warm, like, temperature wise! I laughed and then told him again my situation and said, I just need to use your piano to warm up! Then he understood, laughed loud and long, and led me to the piano. I sang whole heartedly and woke up the house that morning!

One last memory to share...when my brother Dan died, my brother Mark called to tell me the news at my work, Starbucks at Oxmoor. I drove home from work slightly numb, feeling like it wasn't real. I was supposed to go to the Worshipping Church class with Chip teaching in the next 10 minutes, but instead went straight to his office to tell him the news. He enveloped me in a huge bear hug and said, "Oh Lord, bless this family." We talked a minute and then I went home to start making plans with John to go back to MN for the funeral. His response was so comforting to me in that moment.

Ok, one final memory...when we were in the States in 2007 and lived briefly at the Springfield apts, we had just gotten there and were still getting settled when one day at lunchtime there was a knock at the door. There stood Chip, a carry-out bag in his hands, he had brought us lunch! It was gumbo from that place on Frankfort, and was SO good! We had so many meals together (we ended up spending a lot of time at Chip and Doris' house during the months we were in Louisville) and were always blessed by Chip's optimism, cheerfulness, energetic joy and warm hospitality.

So thankful for Chip and his life, well-lived to the end!

Rachel Wind

Scott Morrow said...

Dear Friends,
I was a teammate of Chip's on the UNC freshman tennis team so many years ago, and I have so very much fond and rich memories of my old friend and teammate. What an incredible person, even then. He was so bright, intelligent, loving and caring, not to mention so extraordinarily talented in so many different ways. The arc of his life has taken him into devoted service in the Church, and so very many lives have been touched. I live in Sweden now and have not seen Chip since college, but my former girlfriend from those days at UNC (who also knew Chip) just sent me word of his death, and I felt such deep regret at the news. God bless him and God bless all of you for having had the great good fortune to come into contact with him.