Behind the Piano

She was so afraid, so insecure, that there was no other refuge for her. She had found safety under the piano as a child while her mother practiced. But when her mother died suddenly in an auto accident, all safety and security was gone. In fact, she had held her mother as she bled at the scene of the accident… She had held her mother as she took her final breath. In the months and years that followed, panic and extreme anxiety took hold of her life. She hardly ever left her home, making it necessary for her to depend on others for groceries or other needs. She was trapped by this insecurity and fear.
This character from Susan May Warren’s novel My Foolish Heart, struck a chord with me… and no, I do not mean that as a pun. I was heavily impacted by the fictional plight of this young woman. I at times have felt fear to the extent portrayed in the novel. But the fear was never paralyzing to the degree that I couldn’t go out into the outside world. Instead, my fears and insecurities are more of an internal battle— something that cannot be effected by the outside world.
Although my fears were very real, they were always fleeting; they would come and go depending on the nature of the situation. But my insecurities have stayed in place, causing me to hide behind certain people and things to mask what is going on inside of me. Musically, the piano has been a haven of sorts over the years. Since I am visually impaired and have found it hard to mirror the stage presence of others in my performances, I have always felt inferior with a microphone in my hand. My face on camera a few times was enough to make me grimace, so when I started to become more comfortable accompanying myself, I would slide onto the piano stool and sing behind the keyboard. When our church’s grand piano sat on the floor in front of the stage, I was hardly visible at all, and I liked it.
But I am insecure in other areas too. I am always uncertain when I entertain company at my house. Did I miss any crumbs on the counter? Did I manage to sweep up everything when I took a broom to the floor? Is my toilet clean? My visual impairment limits my perception of cleanliness at home. I can only try my best and hope it is enough. But then I start to wonder what my company might think and it sends me into a tailspin. I often ask friends or family to check things over before the guests arrive.
I had a bit of a revelation a few weeks ago when I hosted a casual evening of food and conversation at my home. Three members of the worship team sat around my kitchen as I laid out snacks as we chatted. We talked about our weekend plans, and I told everyone about my time at a Women of Faith conference. I relayed to them that we had talked about what might be on our name tag. This was in reference to Matthew West’s hit song, “Hello, my Name is.” I told everyone that it was easy for me to define that one thing that I had emblazoned on my name tag and that was “Insecure.”
That’s when the comments came firing back at me. They couldn’t seem to believe that I was insecure. So I explained further. I told them that my disability caused a great deal of my insecurity. I feel the insecurity rise up in house cleaning, doing my own hair, the fact that I don’t wear any make-up because I’ve never been taught how to apply it, my limited fashion sense, my lack of successful dating relationships, etc.
I was comforted by my friends’ encouraging responses. We talked about measuring up and feeling confident with who we are and the strengths we possess. It brought me back to the affirming words I had heard at the conference. I knew I wouldn’t be able to lay down all of my insecurities overnight, but I could start to reflect on what I needed to do to move forward. I need to step out with boldness some time soon, wearing those new shoes and an outfit out of my box. I need to have the confidence to do a performance without asking a friend to help me with make-up. Hey, I did it just a few weeks ago, and I didn’t feel the least bit limited by the fact I wasn’t wearing eye liner and mascara. Who cares if my eyes don’t look like those of other women? I have a visual impairment and my underdeveloped eyes are a result of that; I can’t change that reality.
Maybe, like one Sunday over the summer, I need to step away from the piano and just sing. I am singing for God after all, right? Does it really matter how I am portrayed on the stage? I might not be cowering beneath the piano, but I have certainly hidden behind it. It is time to embrace who I am and come out from behind the shadow of the piano. Only then can I start living in confidence of who I am in Christ. He made no mistake when He created me, and He is no stranger to my insecurity.
In My Foolish Heart, the character who was once paralyzed by fear comes out from under the piano, holding the hand of the one she loves. It is only in meeting a man like her father in character and profession that she is able to let go of everything that holds her back. As she stands in the shelter of his arms, it creates a picture in my mind of God’s arms outstretched toward me. He calls me out into the light, out of the shadow of the piano.

Deep Hunger

‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ —Frederick Buechner
My Bible Study facilitator shared this quote with us last week, and it struck me profoundly. When she asked us to discuss its meaning, our meeting space was filled with a reflective silence. We had been talking about calling and purpose, and I immediately thought of my own calling as a worship leader. Could I look at my work and ministry as “deep gladness”?
Without a doubt, I knew the answer was yes. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed about sharing my music from the stage. As I matured, God led me down a difficult road of pain and discovery, and I found that I was no longer drawn to a life of fame lived out on the stage; I was called to lead worship. To this day, I can definitely say that I enjoy my work. I joke with people that I get paid to sing all day, which is true. But there is more to being a worship leader than just singing all day.
There is a great deal of relationship building, which was an element of the job that created uncertainty when I was first hired. Sure, I have friends and enjoy spending time with them, but I wasn’t sure how to interact and identify with the set of volunteers I led with each week. It was uncomfortable for some, I think, when I was hired to the paid position. We had all worked as volunteers together, and now suddenly I was technically a step above them in terms of rank.
But as the years moved forward, I found this to be less and less of an issue. I look at the volunteers, particularly our piano players and accompanists as valuable equals in this ministry. As I built my OneVoice team, I felt a closeness and camaraderie that I had never experienced before. There was a kinship and understanding that existed between us that created a unique sort of friendship.
This fall, I faced a bit of uncertainty in my ministry roles. I had decided to no longer lead the two Bible Studies I had been facilitating. The teen center had also closed, so my week-day nights were now more open. I had also begun to turn over leadership at YLF to the new director in training. So my question was: what do I do now?
In the past few weeks, I have begun to piece that together, and I think it all comes back to relationship. I have found a few new connections in our music department, and my mentoring and shepherding heart has come alive. I feel particularly burdened and motivated to invest in a few relationships that I have neglected for too long. Oftentimes, it is so easy to spend more time with the people who are in your inner circle— in my case Vanessa and some of the first girls to join OneVoice. But in many ways I have neglected the newcomers to OneVoice and those from other worship teams.
I could easily say that leading worship is all about the music, but there’s more to it than that. If I am going to make an impact on the local church and the Kingdom at large, then I need to invest in those who are traveling that road with me. That part of the quote that talks about “the world’s deep hunger” had me stumped for awhile. Could I say that the world is hungry for God-honoring worship? Can I satisfy that hunger in some way? Certainly, God is hungry for our worship. But could I be satiating some of the hunger as I go beyond simply singing to delving into deeper relationships?
If we can commune together as worship leaders and find common ground through a deeper connection, perhaps the congregation we serve can be drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ. It is only in coming together that we can truly worship Him as one, unified body. Are we hungry for that communion? Are we hungry for Him? We should never seek to just be satisfied but to constantly seek after that deep hunger that rises from our calling.

Cutting the Strings

As you may know by now, I really like shoes! I don’t know what it is about getting that new pair of shoes, but I’m just so excited to put them on for the first time! Such was the case a few years ago when I first put on a new pair of tennis shoes. In my eagerness to wear them, I neglected to realize that one of the tags was still connected to the laces. Since I can’t see very well, I wasn’t aware of the dangling piece of plastic.
But when I got to the office and sat down in my desk chair, I noticed something didn’t look quite right. I got down on my knees to investigate, and that’s when I saw the tag. At first, I was embarrassed. I wondered how many had seen me along my mile-walk from home. Just as those thoughts ran through my mind, there was a knock on my door and my pastor entered the room.
“What are you doing?” he asked, walking over to me.
“Uh, cutting the tag on my new shoe… I… well, I just realized it now.”
“Oh, hey! It’s all good,” he said, kneeling down in front of me. “Let me help you.” He took the scissors out of my hand and I lifted my foot ever so slightly so he could clip the tag free.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said, even as he stood and moved toward the door.
“No problem,” he responded. “Now you don’t have to worry about tripping.”
It was odd how this story came back to me with clarity this week. It was one simple action: my pastor clipping the tag on my new shoes— but it carried significance for me. I would have been perfectly capable of cutting that tag free, but it probably would have taken me longer to complete the action, not to mention there could have been the possible danger of hurting myself. My limited vision causes my perception to be off sometimes, and I have often find myself missing the mark when I try to do something as simple as cutting a tag.
But with his help, I not only completed the task, but I was free of the tag as well. There would be no worries about what people would think of me still sporting the brand of the manufacturer or being in danger of tripping. He freed me to go on with my day without being tied down by my new shoes.
New shoes should be freeing, right? New shoes are like new beginnings, which is exactly what we have encountered in our worship and music department at the church. We endured many challenges this summer which resulted in personnel changes and a difference in group dynamics. Just last week, I found myself facilitating rehearsal for a group of singers who had never worked one-on-one with a particular guitarist. I would not be able to lead worship on the following Sunday, so I wanted this group to feel comfortable and ready to lead as a team.
It was hard for me to let go at first. It was like there was a string connecting me to the group of girls I had worked with for almost two years. Then suddenly, this music education student comes along— confident, talented, and willing to serve. I can’t lead worship, so he volunteers to step in. I should have been relieved to leave the worship planning in capable hands, and I was… but I was also nervous. I knew the group would work well together, but it was difficult to relinquish control and let my girls find their wings. They deserved this new venture— this new way to lead worship. I was a proud mama and protective mama bear all at the same time!
In the end, the rehearsal went well, and the group bonded. Toward the end of practice, I ran down to my office to grab a chord chart for the guitarist and I lingered just inside the door for a long moment. The a cappella strains of “All I have is Christ” floated down the hall from the sanctuary, and I drank in the beauty of the three-part harmony. I stood there for a long time, just listening… letting go… and more listening.
I knew in that moment that I had successfully severed the string. The girls and I would always have a bond, but it was time to cut them loose and share their beautiful voices against another back-drop. To Tyler, the music education student: thank you for shepherding OneVoice with such grace and confidence. I am indebted to you, for this experience was more than just a simple substitution for one Sunday; it was a time of growth and realization. Thank you for cutting the string and setting us free to explore, learn, and grow.

Someone Else’s Shoes

A few months ago, I bought these awesome shoes at the thrift store. Half boot, half open-toed sandal, they were cooler than any shoes I had seen in a long time. I just had to have them, and the store owner was more than happy that they fit me and that I enjoyed them that much. But for how awesome the shoes were, it took me almost two months to get up the courage to wear them.
The heels were terribly high and the fit was quite snug. Once I crammed my feet into those shoes, they were not coming off! Every time I picked out an outfit for church or a night out with friends, I’d pick up the shoes, glance at them, and then pass them up. It never seemed like the right time or place to wear them.
Finally, the night before my birthday, I stood in the closet, faced with the dilemma of the century— okay, the deciding-what-shoes-to-wear dilemma of the century. But anyway, I was bound and determined to look the best on my birthday. I had friends coming from out of town and I would be leading worship. I already knew I wanted to wear my pink, black and white dress, but what shoes would complement the dress best? That’s when I gasped and reached down to retrieve the perfect shoes. It was time to wear them! This was the day I’d been waiting for!
But I chickened out almost as quickly as the decision was made. There was no way I could play piano and press the pedals in those shoes, not to mention coming up and down the stage without risking considerable injury! No, I decided, I couldn’t wear the shoes. I was disappointed because I so wanted to put on a confident and polished picture of myself for my birthday Sunday. I wanted to make a good impression. As if shoes could make all that happen, right…? Not hardly.
Although incredible, those shoes were not me, and I knew it. They were pretty, but very clearly they were someone else’s shoes and I wasn’t meant to walk in them. Sure, I could try to find a way to scrunch my toes in them, but I would never be truly comfortable.
It’s exactly the same thing when we as people try to pretend we’re someone else or put on a fake façade in order to impress someone. My pastor has been preaching recently about how we as people have been created on purpose for a purpose. It has become clear to me that I have been created for something specific, something that fits a unique niche that someone else could never fill completely.
I think of the people that I work with on a daily basis too. I would never dream of being able to do the things that our secretary accomplishes in the office or face the challenges that come with pastoral ministry. I marvel at our guitarist’s skill on the worship team and the sweet and hospitable spirit of the woman I affectionately call my “mama.” Each person in my life has their unique calling and purpose. I can’t fathom even trying to fill their shoes, let alone walk around in them.
As I played that morning in my standard, pump-style heels (they were at least fun and pink), I thought about how much easier it was to just fill my task for the day. It was my birthday, and I felt I was born to share my gift of music to lead His people in worship. Later that day, as we sat around to watch the Packer game, we talked briefly about my calling and it remained crystal clear. I was a worship leader, but more importantly, a child of the King. I will proudly choose to wear the proverbial shoes He has set out for me and try not to don someone else’s shoes, no matter cool they may be.
Maybe some day, I’ll gather up the courage to reach into the closet and pull out those shoes from the thrift store. But it will be after much thought and deliberation. I have to be sensible if I’m going to take a leap into unchartered territory! I’ll seek to do the same if God should call me into a new venture. I want to be ready, through prayer and petition, to take off running whenever He calls me out.