Archive for December, 2011

The old pianoThroughout my childhood, a massive, slightly scarred, upright piano lived in the dining room. I remember poking at the keys when I could barely climb onto the tall bench.

I remember a battered, yellow covered music book with my mom’s name carefully written in the top right corner. It was the only book she used during a brief period of childhood piano lessons.

I remember being granted my desire for piano lessons and a bringing home a bright red book of my own. It was the first of many music books that would sit on that piano as those lessons continued until I graduated from high school.

During high school, playing the piano was a place of refuge. Whether I was pouring out my angst over unrequited teenage love or wrestling with issues of faith, the piano was my safe place where no one intruded. No one offered unsolicited advice. Playing at home, by myself, there was no judgment; there was simply contentment and freedom.

Playing the piano in 1990Over the years how much I’ve played has depended on mundane things like whether a piano was accessible. I’ve carted ridiculous quantities of music books with me, through multiple moves, sometimes carrying a large stack of music books with me even for a week of housesitting. I’ve always made time to play for myself. Playing in public has always been a source of nerves, but that didn’t stop me. I’ve been a church organist when my local church was short on cash and couldn’t afford to hire someone who was trained to play a pipe organ.

Three years ago, all of that changed.

When I walked away from any involvement in my local church, it wasn’t a conscious choice, but I also walked away from playing music. My guitar and the piano have both sat untouched. I’ve thought about playing, but the time has never seemed right. So much of my musical expression over the years has been related to my faith and when I walked away from the outward expression of that faith, there seemed nothing left to say.

I stopped playing.

A little piece of me quietly died from neglect.

And I didn’t even notice.

One morning this fall, a work friend sent me a message, "Do I remember correctly that you play the piano or am I losing my mind?"

There was some teasing about the losing her mind part, but I did admit that I used to play the piano. By the time the laughter had stopped, I’d agreed to be the accompanist for a local community theatre company’s Christmas show. How could I resist a show called Bulby the Christmas Jackalope?  Better still, the music included I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas! Who doesn’t love that old Telus commercial?

I had no idea how rusty my fingers had become in the last three years. Several times I seriously considered backing out of my commitment (one of those was right about the time I wrote about Step One). I was super nervous about my piano skills or lack thereof. Add in some old-fashioned lack of confidence and feeling intimidated because I know how talented the actors are.  I’ve seen them on stage and loved their performances.  I didn’t want to be the weak link in the chain.

Knowing that I’d made my commitment to Step Two public, even in such a small way, definitely made it easier to chose to keep moving forward rather than running away to hide in fear.

One elf hat for the pianist for Bulby the Christmas JackalopeI am super glad that I stuck with it. It was a crazy, busy month with three rehearsals a week. Show week felt like I was hardly home at all.  Add together a regular work week, tech rehearsal on Monday, dress rehearsal on Wednesday, preview on Thursday, two shows on Saturday (did I mention that was my birthday?) and one show on Sunday.  It’s no wonder I was questioning where I lived by the end of the week.

But the crazy schedule, the panic-y nerves, and the lack of sleep were entirely worth it!

That little piece of me that had shrivelled away from neglect?  It bloomed again! 

I’m certain my mom thought the world must be coming to an end. I actually looked forward to the time I needed to spend practicing.  That never happened during all those years of lessons.  I had no idea how much I missed spending time at the piano. 

Not only did I reclaim my love of making music, I found a sense of face-to-face community that had also been missing.

I enjoyed it so much that, without even thinking, I almost said yes to playing for the spring show. Some of the trepidation about this show wisely spoke up and reminded me that I need to look before leaping. Fear does exist for a good reason … as long as we don’t allow it to overwhelm us. 

After being honest with myself about how much time I would need to invest, I knew that other things, like writing, had a greater priority for me. While I declined that commitment, I did let them know that I’d love to be involved in future smaller scale projects.

The opportunity to express what is held deepest inside is too precious to waste. So here is my commitment stated aloud.  In 2012, I will make time and space to play the piano or guitar, just for me even is nothing else requires that  I play.

Last night, I started inching forward on Step Three. There’s more drawing in my future.  I’ll keep you posted. As I sit here watching the New Year’s Eve broadcasts, I’m excited for 2012!

What about you? What have you walked away from that you need to reclaim?

Here’s to more courage for all of us to keep moving forward in 2012!

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Twisting Path in the Japanese GardenIt makes me chuckle me to remember that not so many years ago, I preached a sermon on unexpected twists in the road. I’d recently left my job as a youth pastor and I thought my life had taken as drastic a turn as I could begin to imagine. Today, I know that the path has continued to meander, to twist and turn in ways I never would have expected. While I still live in the same physical place, the spiritual and emotional landscape is almost entirely different.

I love this new place. The grass is green. There is new life and growth. There is a sense of contentment and peace balanced with a sense of adventure and excitement around each corner. There is a greater depth of knowing myself and accepting myself than I have experienced before. There is more bravery and less hiding in hopes of avoiding notice and hurt, than I have felt since childhood. There are friends with whom I can be my real self without fear of judgement and rejection. There is joy with wild abandon and there is quiet reflection in equal quantities.

It’s a good place.

But sometimes, in the dark, in the quiet, there are questions and doubts that poke their heads above ground like little prairie dogs. Except these aren’t so cute and innocent looking.

How could you walk away from what you know to be true?

How can you love your body? You’re fatter than you’ve ever been. (I almost wrote heavier, but it wouldn’t be honest about what that voice says.)

How can you be happy in that job? It’s nothing like following the calling that you dreamed and studied for 10 years to see come true.

Remember how proud Grandma was when you decided to become a pastor? She’d be so disappointed in you now.

That last one cuts the deepest. It’s been quietly hanging out, not drawing attention to itself in obvious ways, just making things feel unsettled, "not right" in some indefinable way.

My friend Ellie, the Headologist, calls that voice the "evil auctioneer". When he starts selling his crap, I’ve got answers for most of his lies that stop me from buying. But the one about my Grandma? I’ve been an easy sell when that one comes calling. I’ve purchased without stopping to hear what is really being said. Unthinkingly, I’ve accepted it as truth and it’s left me unbalanced and uncertain.

It is true that some of the choices I’ve made would definitely cause my Grandma concern. I can’t deny that. I know who she was and I know what she believed. I know she would be sad that I’d made the choice to walk away from being a youth pastor. I know she would be troubled by my distance from anything called a church.

But I realized something last week. Yes, she would be sad, because she would grieve for the hurts in my life that led to those decisions. Not because she was disappointed "in me", but because she was disappointed "for me". One little word makes all the difference. One phrase is about judgement, disapproval and not measuring up. The other is an expression of unconditional love that feels the pain of the one who is loved.

If there’s one thing I have always known about my Grandma, it is that she believed and lived that love was unconditional and that grace was given freely to all, not just to those who "deserved" it. Somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten that unconditional love also applies to me. I’ve never had to do anything to earn her approval. I’m her granddaughter. I know that she loved me no matter what.

The funny part of this story is what reminded me of that truth.

A little owl told me so.


Kyeli's Owl Necklace - http://instagr.am/p/XixcH/An owl necklace in a picture of a friend and mentor who has been speaking a lot of truth into my life.

I’m part of a writing apprenticeship with Kyeli from the Connection Revolution.  Along the way we’ve laughed much about our rather different spiritual paths. Me, the former Baptist youth pastor in a small Canadian town. Kyeli, the lesbian witch from Texas. We admit it’s an odd combination. But it works. I’ve rarely connected with someone so quickly and easily.

My Grandma? She was a traditional, conservative lady. Don’t drink. Don’t dance. Don’t smoke. Don’t play cards. All of those stereotypes that go with being a Baptist.

Weird, right?  I know. I can hear you asking the same question … How in the world did Kyeli’s owl necklace speak to me of my Grandma’s unconditional love?

Kyeli and my Grandma have very little in common on the surface, but they share at least two things, one frivolous and one world-changing-ly important.

The first, a love of owls. Kyeli’s twitter feed often includes photos of her latest owl find and they’ve always made me smile as every time my Grandma immediately comes to mind.

When I saw this particular picture, I smiled and thought how she would have appreciated the necklace. But then came something unusual. Sitting at my desk, at work, (yes, I was checking twitter during work hours) I felt this tangible wave of love wash over me. It brought tears to my eyes. It was so powerful and so clear. It was overwhelming.

That’s the second thing they share, an ability to live out unconditional acceptance and love in a way that few people do.

They’re shiny with it.

In an instant, I heard what the evil auctioneer had been selling.  I knew it was a lie and had been all along. There was not a drop of truth to be found.

Taken just before my trip to Albania in summer 1994My Grandma would be thrilled for me. She would see how happy I am and how I’m finding ways to use the gifts I have to change the world. She wouldn’t understand why I’ve made some choices, but it wouldn’t matter. She would love me and accept me just for being me. She’d encourage me to live life to the fullest, to take risks, to follow my dreams and never stop believing in myself.

Oh, in case you were wondering …

She’d love my new friend Kyeli too! They laugh and sing and talk of owls.

But, most importantly, they’d shine really bright together.

Hmmm… it makes me wonder … are there other people in my life whose acceptance and support I’ve been underestimating?

What about the people who depend on me to be their beacon in the dark? Can I shine more brightly or more clearly for them?

How about you? Who’s shiny in your life?

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