Finding the Music

How did I get here?  It’s a question I found myself contemplating as I lay in bed one summer night in 2013.  I was at Camp, occupying the single bedroom down the hall from all the suites and shared bathrooms.  It was private, quiet, and a bit isolated.  The single bedroom was always set aside for the director.  There was something about being in that room that struck me profoundly.  I knew I was the director, but that bedroom sealed the reality in place.  I was the director.  Gulp.  Again, I asked myself: how did I get here?

I had stumbled my way into leadership.  I hadn’t expected to take on the role of director, but in the end, that’s what had happened.  For two-and-a-half years, I was assistant director, and then in 2012, the reins were placed in my hands.  2013 was my first full summer on my own.  I felt equipped, prepared, and ready for the role, but it was still humbling.  I was responsible for 30-some people, and I did not take that task lightly.  I was the one in charge, and I couldn’t deny the weight that reality carried.

For the next three summers, the camp moved forward under my leadership.  I had some great staff behind me and a board of directors who desired to help, but even so, I felt very isolated in my leadership role.  There was a great deal on my shoulders, and I felt responsible for every single decision that I made.  I knew I had the ability to impact the lives of teenagers with disabilities, and I wanted each attendee to feel welcomed and appreciated.  It may have been stressful and difficult at times, but every moment was worth it.

Then in 2015, I felt the first urgings to depart.  At first, leaving didn’t make sense.  True, I was stressed out and probably near burn-out, but I could hang in there for one more year, right?  The answer didn’t come with a resounding clamor.  Instead, I discerned that God was drawing me aside with a tender, loving call to embrace a time of rest with Him.  But I wasn’t sure I needed or wanted to rest.  Wasn’t I supposed to keep working and striving in service to Him?  I was still a worship leader at my local church, but the idea of leaving Camp created a cavernous space inside of me.  It would take a monumental effort to walk away from something that had become such a part of me over the course of six years.

I attended a conference for work a week before I sent my resignation letter in to the camp.  I was still wavering in my decision, contemplating throwing the letter away and forgetting that I had ever written it.  But at the conference, I met a group of disability advocates from Indiana, and my perspective shifted.  They expressed that my role as director of Camp had been a positive chapter in my life, but they encouraged me to not be afraid to let it go.  And when I let go, they told me, I needed to make a clean break.  “Take at least six months to just focus on your worship leading,” they told me.  “Don’t jump into anything new until you are truly ready to do so.”

Six months!?  Six months of just leading worship and not much else?  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I was a doer, server, hard-worker, someone who sought to hide my limitations through constant movement forward.  I was almost sure that I wouldn’t be able to rest because I would be struggling to just keep still.  I was fighting against something that was so inherently a part of me.

Well, more than six months later, here we are.  I made it!  I took the time away.  I sought the healing that my heart so desperately needed.  I went for long walks, read countless books, invested in relationships that I had neglected, and evaluated my priorities.  Then the sabbatical began.  Our pastor planned to spend three months apart from our church so he could take the time to rest and find new energy for ministry.  That left me in a unique position.  I may not be vice-president on the church board, but I am on the church staff, and this reality has given me the opportunity to step up in a huge way.  When I became Music and Worship Director in 2011, I was timid, uncertain, and on the tail-end of debilitating illness.  I wasn’t sure what leading worship looked like— only that I would be in a leadership role— working with the musicians and drawing the congregation into music and worship on Sunday mornings.  I shadowed our pastor, did what I was told, and fulfilled my duties.  I didn’t often step out on my own.

If this summer has taught me anything, I would have to say that I have learned how to rest and lead.  I believe that my six-month sabbatical of sorts prepared me for my pastor’s sabbatical.  It gave me the opportunity to embrace my leadership role more fully.  It has drawn me into close relationship with some of the other musicians.  It has opened a door to a humbling ministry opportunity that six months ago I never would have anticipated.  I have interacted with other pastors and leaders, learned about different leadership styles, and been stretched musically beyond what I thought was possible.

At first I wasn’t sure if I could do it again.  By that I mean, I wasn’t sure that I could strike out without a core leader in place above me.  But I think my time at Camp prepared me to take my place in leadership.  After my extensive time of rest and reflection, I had found a new dependence on God, and He was the Leader I needed to follow as I took my place in leadership during Pastor’s sabbatical.  After all, everyone must follow someone.  No leader can be isolated in his/her leadership role.

God knew I needed to find new energy before Pastor’s sabbatical, and perhaps that is why He drew me away from Camp when He did.  He perceived a greater need— a desire for renewal so new life could spring up in the music department at FRC.  I can’t help but think of a pivotal moment in one of the songs we do at the church.  It’s called “All the Earth,” and even before the singers begin, there is a full-fledged “rest” in the piano part— a stopping point— just for one beat, but it is the best part of the song.  It is a surprising moment when everything comes to a halt, and the other musicians await my nod to move forward.  Then, right on the beat, the song resumes with obvious intention.  But without that rest— that break— the song would be incomplete.  The music would not resonate the same way.

“There is no music in a “rest,” but there is the making of music in it” (John Ruskin).

This is so true!  The same is true of my experience in leadership and rest and the correlation between both.  If we don’t take the time to stop, rest, and reflect, we just might miss the sweetest music yet to be heard.  Let’s commit today to find that balance between working and striving and stopping and resting.  Let’s find the music hidden in between.


The Balance Sheet

In the Summer of 2011, I prayed what one of my friends called a “dangerous prayer.”  I felt like I had just lost out on an opportunity to serve God to the fullest, so I set out to make it right.  “Use me, God,” I prayed.  “Let me see others through Your eyes, and bring me to the people You want me to reach.”  I memorized the lyrics to Brandon Heath’s “Give me Your Eyes,” and that was the basis for my over-arching prayer.

The reason this prayer was “dangerous” was because I knew I couldn’t say those words and pray with that mindset unless I was truly ready for God to answer.  As my friend explained: “Don’t pray a prayer like that unless you’re ready to be stretched… for God to truly use you in that way.”  And let me tell you, He certainly didn’t let me take the easy way out.  Before the Summer’s end, I was prepared to direct camp for another year, mentoring a musician with disabilities, befriending someone from church who needed encouragement, and contemplating music lessons with someone outside of my usual circle of acquaintances.

In some ways, my prayer that God would use me went beyond just seeing others through His eyes.  It was in response to a lost battle with the balance sheet— you know that internal weighing of the pros and cons?  Well, I had lost out.  I weighed all of my options regarding an opportunity I was considering, and in the end, I had decided it wasn’t worth the risk.  I told God it would be too hard, beyond my resources, and that someone else could do it.  Basically, the cons outweighed the pros.  With it all settled in my mind, I thought I would feel better, but I didn’t.  The guilt was intense.  Maybe I had given up too quickly.  After all, there can be no reward if there isn’t some kind of struggle first.

In the end, I walked away from the opportunity because I was afraid to love— to give of myself beyond the surface level.  I could have had the opportunity to extend hope to someone who desperately needed it, but in walking away, I decided that it wasn’t worth the risk.  Love is a powerful thing, and I wasn’t willing to invest in someone without the promise of a guaranteed reward.  Before entering in, I wanted to know that it would all turn out okay— that I wouldn’t be hurt in the process.  It’s always a good thing to guard your heart, but did I go too far to protect myself?

Recently, I caught the last half of one of my favorite movies as it aired on TV.  In the 1997 film My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julia Roberts’ character is on a mission.  She has discovered that after nine years, she is madly in love with her best friend.  The only problem is that her best friend, Michael, has decided to marry someone else.  Cameron Diaz’s character is perfect and perky, almost to the degree that Julia Robert’s character is irritated.  In the four days before the wedding, she is bound and determined to confess her love to Michael and break up the soon-to-be-married couple.  As the movie progresses, however, Julia Roberts’ character begins to catch glimpses of the love that exists between her best friend and the woman he loves.

While standing in close quarters inside an elevator, Julia Roberts’ character proceeds to list off several of Michael’s faults, hoping to deter Cameron Diaz’s character from marrying him.  But the plan backfires.  Instead of being appalled by her future husband’s faults, Cameron Diaz’s character confesses that she is in love with Michael, no matter his idiosyncrasies.  She even goes so far to say that she threw away the balance sheet because she loves him, essentially saying that nothing could sway her from marrying him— even though there is a loud rattle when he snores and he slurps his soup.

Even though we’re talking about a movie here with created characters and personalities, it is remarkable how we all respond differently to making decisions.  Rather than siding with pros or cons, Cameron Diaz’s character decided to leave it all behind.  Apparently, falling in love didn’t need to be weighed on a scale.  She knew what she wanted and that was Michael, in a sense choosing to marry him for better or worse.

Why does it seem so easy for some people?  I may not physically make a balance sheet with all of my options outlined, but I seem to carry those pros and cons in my head.  Sometimes, all it takes is one big con to derail everything.  Something that once seemed promising is quickly thrown out the window because it costs too much— either financially or emotionally.  In fact, such a scenario played out when I decided to resign from directing Camp.  I may not have written down every reasoning for whether I should stay or go, but my mind and heart were abuzz with all of the implications.  How much was I willing to risk in the name of love?  As I said in a previous post, my main struggle was focused on whether to stay because I loved the program so much or leave the program with that same love intact before guilt could make me stay out more year out of obligation.

I will definitely say that choosing to leave Camp was a much better decision than the one that sent me into a tailspin back in 2011.  I left knowing that I had done the right thing, even though it hurt.  In the past few years, I have made a conscious effort to invest in people— to love without boundaries, to look past that black-and-white matter to sit in the gray for awhile, to have those difficult conversations to speak the truth in love, to encourage growth and development in the lives of the elderly and peers with disabilities, and to open myself up to the unexpected.  Maybe someday, I’ll even fall in love.  But until that day, I am choosing to take things at face-value, to invest even though there might be a risk to my heart, and to throw the balance sheet aside.

It has been said that Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) often carried a card in his pocket that said the following: “You can learn to love anybody once you know their story.”  And it’s so true.  So if you are like me, fighting that battle with the balance sheet, especially when it comes to love, have no fear.  Everyone has a story, and once we dig deep enough to find it, we can let some of those cons go by the wayside.  Like Cameron Diaz’s character, we can embrace love even though those obstacles or cons stand in the way.  It may have been quoted that “love is a decision,” but it doesn’t have to be so complicated.