My Uncomfortable Life (and how God uses it)

I love to play the piano.

I am not a virtuoso, but I have played enough over the years, that I can relax and enjoy expressing myself through music.  I’ve played hymns in churches most of my life, and always offer to do so when I move to someplace new.

And so it happened that I offered to play for the church that I am attending here, “up north”. and am collecting quite a collection of piano stories with a common theme. Embarrassment.  It’s got me thinking.  But, as always, what I let myself think is important. Humility and embarrassment are related, but not quite the same and that is where the importance starts.

This morning I arrived early enough for church that I could make sure the electronic instrument, a clavinova, was plugged in, turned on and sounded appropriate for the small early service. I only had to play for the communion portion of the service – one hymn.  All was set.  The service went well, the message was moving and the invitation was given for communion. To my surprise, when I started to play there was a pop drum beat and a very weird bass thing going on with my reverent, calm hymn.

I hunted for any button on the control board that had STOP written on it, and tried several times to make the hymn sound like a hymn, but no. What finally came out of the machine was barely recognizable and was probably more distracting than having no music at all.  Stuff like this is a musician’s nightmare.

This particular service is early, 8 am, and has small attendance, so the music crew does not do a lot of practice for it.  Other times when I’ve participated, I have played the wrong song at the right time, played the right song at the wrong time, and played when I was not supposed to play at all.  I suppose the regular attendees are getting kind of used to me and my uncomfortable adventures.

I am filled with mixed emotions. Why do these things keep happening? It always takes a bit of courage to put myself in a place of service to others where what I do is noticeable if I do it poorly. I am aware that music sets the mood and can influence people. I desperately (yes, desperately!) want to not distract people from their worship, or make them uncomfortable because they are worried about me.

On the other hand, I realize that music is not what it’s all about.  Worship is not about me at all and how I respond when things go poorly is what God is probably watching. What does my embarrassment lead to? What discouraging messages am I giving myself about my performance, my usefulness? Will I be intimidated and unwilling to serve again? Those would not be good choices. However, I have to consider that God might be telling me that my time playing for church is finished.  Maybe I am to move on to something else, and it would be okay.  It has to be okay. Kind of makes me look at my pride issues and wonder what God wants to teach me next.  That is always a good thing.

This morning, the pastor asked me what I was going to write about next.  I had no idea then, but God inspires in strange ways and look what happens. Just sayin’…

 

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Bottom line – I can always make music in my heart, and maybe that’s the best place for it…

Understanding 101

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not paraticularly inviting…

Depending on how you look at it, being at the end of a long, unpaved, often pothole filled, dead end road can be very comforting (like, what bad guys would even want to drive down this?) or really creepy (if they do come they are highly motivated and wanting to avoid witnesses). And isn’t that how life always is? We often get to choose a viewpoint.

I am coming to the end of a project, that of keeping house for Dr. Julia while she visited Cambodia and the children of Asia’s Hope. I find it interesting to step inside someone’s world and reflect on their experience. I’ve lived with her family of animals, sweated in her less than efficient air conditioning, traveled her frequented roads and busy city highways, walked in her pastures, waded through her mud, mowed her grass, eaten dinner with her friends and driven her vehicles.

I’ve gotten the flavor of north eastern Florida, from the hospitality and southern courtesy of its inhabitants, to the ever present matttresses, broken tv’s and toilet fixtures waiting on the side of the road for garbage pickup. What I will miss is the silence. I don’t know why I call it silence – it’s really the sound of a crew of frogs in the pond in the yard, and the wind in the trees, and the rain on the roof. But I can actually hear these things and it’s not hard to sleep peacefully with that kind of music in the background (if you’ve chosen not to worry about the bad guys…)

For me, coming away with a better understanding of another person’s joys and struggles is the bonus in this experience. Now, when Dr. Julia tries to explain the feelings of isolation in the evenings, coming home to a dark house, with only her cats and dog and her “friends” in the box (tv), I get it.  When she mentions her frustration with the rats getting into her horse feed again,  I get it. I saw those critters.  I hope there is some comfort for her in knowing that her experience is more known by another.

I am thankful for this season in my life. I am benefitting from these extended periods of time spent with family, sometimes in their homes, sometimes in mine. I marvel at how gently God is teaching me empathy, compassion, and how to discern other’s needs. I want to learn how to honestly express interest, and love. Often that class takes place at the end of a long, bumpy road. Just sayin’…

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recently graveled, but working on some new potholes

A Lesson Through Family

family blog postAnd by “through family” I mean through the experience of having children and to some extent by being a child.  I can hardly begin to name or number the  “aha!” moments when something going on between me and my children has caused me to stop and wonder if I am being taught a lesson.  I have so come to believe that the family was intended to be God’s school of life, teaching us how he wanted us to view him in his role as father, teaching us how to grow strong, smart, productive and fulfilled as children.

So lately, I am alongside a few family members who are struggling with feeling significant, cared about and noticed.  They are on my mind daily, sometimes hourly and sometimes for every minute of the hour.  I want them to know I love them.  I’m not a person who routinely stalks others or obsessively calls or texts (well, maybe a little too free with the texting…) but I do get desperate at times – wanting them to know how I value them for just being themselves.  I love them.  I want a word better than love to describe how I feel.

For these reasons, something in my reading today just leaped off the page for me.  Here it is: “Love always wants to be known.”  Have you felt the truth of this?  It’s also true that I want to be loved but this is talking about the giving side of the equation, not the receiving.  I somehow feel that if I could communicate love to someone, it would help them.  They would not view their circumstances in the same way.  They would not feel alone. They would have their “I AM LOVED” armor on and it would protect them.

And then I get it, suddenly, a richer, wider view of God.  This is what he wants me to know, really know.

 He loves me.  That’s where my experience of him is supposed to start. 

Okay, there is Jesus giving up a previous position, going through the human thing and dying for my sin.  That’s big, but honestly, I sometimes have trouble relating to it.  I sometimes miss the “why” behind it all.

 He loves me and wants me to know it.

In his book “The Divine Conspiracy” Dallas Willard quotes another writer, Julian Norwich, “…for God wishes to be seen, and he wishes to be sought, and he wishes to be expected, and he wishes to be trusted.”  In my frustrating, doubting times,  I’ve wondered how I could become convinced of this.  More often, I’ve wondered how I could convince others of this.  I think I know how it’s happening with me.  Again, Dallas Willard explains it in a way I totally understand.

“Persons rarely become present where they are not heartily wanted. Certainly that is true for you and me.  We prefer to be wanted, warmly wanted, before we reveal our souls — or even come to a party.  The ability to see and the practice of seeing God and God’s world comes through a process of seeking and growing in intimacy with him.”

I have to want God, want to be loved by him and to know him. And maybe that is the question for many.  Who is God that I should want to know him?  Is that your question?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Know how I feel about my mom?

Dear Mom,

Good morning and I’m thinking about you as I sit in a quiet house having the morning’s first cup of coffee in “your mug”, the one you didn’t want to send off to Good Will when you moved.   I’m saving it for you.  I like it too.

I just want to tell you that I feel so blessed, at my age, to be able to write a letter to my mom and have her be able to read it.  A lot of people don’t get the chance.  That you are still here is partly because you are not that much older than I am, only 18 years, and partly because you navigated the storms of life pretty well.  You probably don’t feel like you did it all intentionally but you did make many simple decisions to be patient, to be faithful, to not worry, to work, to ask for help, to trust others, to love and to be flexible.  They all add up.

And now we are in a different season.  For the first time since you were a teenager, you are exploring who you are by yourself.  Once again, I am so amazed at your ability to try things and come to conclusions about them.  While many who lose a spouse would retreat and let themselves be forgotten, instead you are reaching out to your family and friends and being a part of their lives.  You’ve concluded that you don’t like to be living alone – a good thing to know.  I am so looking forward to spending time with you again, not just to visit, but to have those longer shared experiences.

Now that my own children are out of the house and working on their lives and careers, it is a comfort to me to know that you have been through that part of motherhood.  You’ve seen us kids make bad decisions, go through tough times, lose people we love, wrestle with faith, take risks.  You lived through it, and because of that I know I can too.

I’ve always wanted to spend more time with you – you were a fun mom – but even more so as I became aware of you as an interesting person, not just a mom.  I loved interviewing you a couple years ago and finding out details of your early years with your own parents and siblings.  As someone who reads and recognizes a good story, I realized I was hearing one.  There is a tendency as a child to think you know your parents, after all you grew up with them.  What it really means is that they know you much better than you know them.  I look forward to learning more about you.

I will see you in less than a week.  We will talk, share our morning coffee times, read together, do a jigsaw puzzle or two, take some pictures of us together, sort through life, laugh, remember…. I look forward to it.  So grateful for the time.  Love you Mom.

A to Z Challenge: W for Watch

Looking through a drawer I came across five watches that I’ve worn at various times. All of them had stopped running and probably needed nothing more than a new battery. One of them had a cracked crystal.  I took them to a jewelry store to get them going again and when I picked them up the clerk said “no charge”.  They were all running and set to correct time so I asked why I wasn’t being charged for new batteries. He mentioned the cracked crystal and apologized.  I told him he hadn’t done it – it was that way when I brought it in.  He said he knew that, but was sorry he hadn’t been able to replace it, so he was giving me the batteries for free.  It was a small thing, but an unusual business occurrence these days. I don’t think I’ll forget it.

When was the last time you experienced someone taking responsibility for something for which they were not responsible?  And doesn’t that speak of a confidence and grace that is generous and non-threatening? I was grateful in this situation and the good will created will likely take me back to that store to spend money at some point.  This is in sharp contrast to times when responsibility is avoided or denied, when the most important thing seems to be pinning the blame somewhere.

I was thankful for this little object lesson that God dropped in my path and I’ll try not to forget to put it into practice. I think it’s about being humble,  not in a self deprecating way but with confidence. I am valued enough that I can willingly accept responsibility for my own mistakes and maybe for a few of someone elses’ as well.  It doesn’t really matter who is to blame.  And I’ve found that after years of using my phone for getting the time, I kind of like wearing a watch again.  Just sayin’…

 

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Lessons from The Natural World

The Natural World

I could feel the blisters coming up, but I couldn’t stop.

We have a beautiful tree in our yard, a somewhat rare tropical Kapok tree.  It’s very tall, having grown up in a grove of oak trees – it had to go up to get the sun.  Most of the year we don’t pay much attention to it, other than to admire the trunk.

What  a beautiful trunk you have!
What a beautiful trunk you have!

But in the spring it flowers, and for two to three weeks  the ground below is showered with the red blooms.  These are not like the delicate white dogwood  flower but the type that will put a dent in your car should it happen to land there. We put a parking area under this tree. What were we thinking?!

big, juicy, heavy flower capable of doing damage
big, juicy, heavy flower capable of doing damage

The mat of squishy, slippery rotting vegetation is hard to walk on or drive on and it creates a brown, moldy looking paste that is death to a car’s paint job.

Die, paint job, die.
Die, paint job, die.

I was considering all this while raking the debris into heavy piles of “stuff” and my usual outdoor thought surfaced.  What is nature teaching me? Could it be that we are all parked in places in our lives where “stuff” is falling on us that is damaging us? I had no trouble connecting that to some relationally toxic environments that I’ve been in lately.  And I had just read a blog post about dealing with self-absorbed people who drop words and thoughts on others without awareness of the effects.

I’m not exactly proud that this was my first evaluation of the nature flower bomb situation, because the next place my thinking went proved more valuable.  What if I am the tree?  What’s happening to the people who are parked in my vicinity during the hours and days of my life? What kind of clean-up chores are necessary after I’ve been around?  Now there was food for thought.  It gave me a whole new perspective on spending an afternoon doing crafts with a child, or taking time to shop for my quadriplegic client, or the contacts with people in my study group.  There are a lot of people “parked” under my tree of influence and I can make decisions on how I affect them, for good or bad.

Yes, the blisters are there.  On other days, it’s a sore back, or a sunburn or just being dog-tired.  Is it worth it? I say yes, as I look at the results – a clean drive and parking area and new incentive to interact in a better way with my friends and neighbors on planet earth .  Surrounded by trees, plants, sky, dirt and fresh air we open ourselves to hear some really valuable messages.  I’m just  sayin’, whoever created the natural world had a really good idea and today I get it.