Advent: Just A Piano Player

I am parked on a squeaky kitchen stool, a stack of neatly folded clothes at my elbow (thank you, husband); a cup of hot coffee beside me (thank you, husband), a bright swath of sunlight poking through the dusty, pock-marked windows. Half a dozen eggs are boiling on the stove and Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God is streaming through the speakers. fullsizerender-64

Sing out with joy, for the brave little boy is our Savior

Thank you, God. Thank you, husband.

I woke up this morning to the smell of coffee; I swore a cup was sitting on my bedside table, it was so pervasive and powerful. The other side of the bed was empty and I knew from the settled silence that I was the only one home. Fridays are my Saturday, and I sleep right through David’s wake up, trusting that he’ll get himself out the door and on the bus (he does). I wake up slowly, visions of laundry and slow movement in my head. Tony often rises early on Fridays and sets the stage for my arrival in the kitchen – hence the coffee, and sometimes a little love note.

It is something special, knowing that someone has prepared the way for me.

It’s a little thing, for sure, but it matters. Every other day of the week I make myself two cups in the coffee press, and I rarely leave any for him because half the time he bolts out the door with no time for caffeine; and yet he always thinks of me.

Moving slowly this morning, I am surrounded by reminders of grace; the warmth of the sun on my arm, the sound of music familiar and deeply resonant, a hot cup of coffee, neatly folded blue jeans. I consider the incredible experience of a community concert last night; groups of 13 and 14 year old children playing instruments and singing – not just showing up for the required concert, but sincerely and powerful creating art, making music in community.

I couldn’t shake the feeling last night that I’d heard some sort of siren song, some call to my spirit, an invitation to look back and remember. I sat in the auditorium where I’d first experienced the grace of the faith community I now serve, when I moved to this town some 12 years ago. Our church was smaller and simpler then, with one location instead of four. PCC was meeting in the high school auditorium when I arrived, broken, ashamed, five kids in tow, clueless about the future. I look back now and cannot even imagine how we got through the days, the weeks, the months…

Grace. All grace.

My mom suggested we try this new mobile church, and one visit was enough. Grace leaked all over me and my kids, and the gentle leading of the spirit put us in a unique position. A year later, I was still a mess, but I was part of this movement, making music and experiencing daily healing. Honestly, sometimes it was like being in a residential treatment center; the counseling, the community, the honest conversations, the challenges to accept the grace in front of me. The transformation (still incomplete) gave me life. My job healed me.

Last night I had the privilege of accompanying the Eighth Grade Chorus from the local school. It was transcendent; beautiful, with a passion unique to adolescents who have nothing but possibility ahead of them. And I remembered when we made music like that every week, when every Sunday felt full of possibility and beauty. When I was just a piano player; when my soul leapt and expanded and burst with every note, every cobbled-together worship song.

Just a piano player.

There was a moment when my boss turned to my friend and said, about me, She’s more than just a piano player, you know. I’ve never forgotten that validation; I went on to preach, to lead, to sit at the table where decisions were made. I was ordained. My job grew to represent the presence of God in places where I’d never been invited. A career opened up and it was exhilarating, affirming, exciting – and incredibly fulfilling. I’d trained as a teacher; I had five kids. I taught private lessons. I did some remarkable things in the musical realm. But suddenly, I had a career in ministry.

And even as I type this, as Jill Phillips sings It was not a silent night and I remember the moment five years ago when I was part of the team who pulled together the musicians to present that entire song cycle, with incredible passion and excellence, and I sang that song…as I type, tears are streaming down my face and I am wondering if, in fact, I’ve been missing the point.

But for the girl on the ground in the dark / every beat of her beautiful heart / It was a labor of love

Last night, sitting behind the piano – playing a small part in what was the best concert of a certain conductor’s career, the culmination of weeks of work for a group of adolescents who have not a care about what the accompanist was thinking – I was so happy. No – strike that; not happy, but fulfilledContentFull. It was a familiar seat, one that has often felt not enough, because I am capable of so much more, because I can lead, I can speak loudly, I can direct, I can organize, I can cast vision. Yet there I sat, silent and content.

Just the piano player. But it felt right.

My “career” has led me further and further away from music; the demands of our organization and the challenges of a multi-site model of church requires leaders to lead and manage and do big things, and isn’t that the way it works? Shouldn’t we climb the ladder and sit at a bigger table and achieve success at the top of the heap?

And yet…

What runs through my mind – as tears stream down my face – is that the meek are blessed; that there is something life-giving and affirming and healing to being small; being quiet. 

There is blessing there; there is something holy and sacred in that small, quiet space.

Is it possible that the circle would made complete by returning to being just a piano player once again? Could I stop shouting and leading and making big decisions and let go the notion that the next, best step for me is a higher rung on the ladder?

Behold our broken hearts; fallen far, we need you

Son of God, Emmanuel; Son of man, we need you

I don’t know. I don’t know what I don’t know, I can’t figure this out, but the tears that have soaked my face as I process all of this out loud are proof that deep in my soul, there is something going on here, some deep emotional connection. I have no doubt that all things work together for good, and that most of the time the journey involves simply reorienting myself to what that good might be, and then moving in that direction. See where God is working and then get involved, as Henry Blackaby said.

Behold the lamb of God, who comes to take away our sin

What am I called to do now, in this season? What is this unrest, this stirring? What have I to offer?

Remember now His mercy – and sing out for joy….

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3 Comments

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  1. “Be Still, and know that I am God”, I lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help, my help comes from our Lord!! (psalm) Know that you are not alone and we love you, come home!

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  2. Beautiful. I know a similar train of thought in my own line of work. Society and church seem to assume the goodness of ascending the leadership ladder. But is that my best place? Not because I can or can’t do it, but because my walk with God and my health are most balanced in a particular role? Is leadership a lifelong destination, or a role for a season? I seek balance and health, knowing that when I have it, I am also of better service to others. I think our souls need to be searched on these things from time to time. Quietly and with a listening heart.

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  3. I think being a piano player is awesome and probably more awesome than all of those other things.

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