Discernment…looking into the future…

I’m at a point in my life where the title of this post has some pretty significant meaning. I retire from the job I’ve had since 1999 at the end of this year, and I’m not sure what the future is bringing. One thing I do know, and that is that I’m not ready to sit in a rocking chair

grandma rocking chair (1)Granted, I am going to do some rocking…there are perks to being retired when a new grandbaby is on the way! But that’s not going to be my whole life…twiddling my thumbs!

So right now I’m trying to figure it out. What do I want to be when I grow up?

Sometimes I wish I could simply look into the future and see what’s coming…not have to worry about making any decisions on my own, but simply let life happen. Unfortunately–or maybe fortunately–that’s not how it works!

So that brings me back to the first part of the title of this post–discernment.

Discernment isn’t just waiting for God to reveal the future. Yes, it is one way we connect with God (the Divine…however you describe the Ultimate Being), but it requires something from us as well.

It takes work. It takes listening…and that’s hard.

I have several opportunities / possibilities that are coming my direction, but discernment requires me to be patient…to let God work within me…to sometimes think beyond my own desires and expectations, even if that seems uncomfortable.

It’s not simply sitting back passively and waiting for life to happen, although sometimes I think that might be easier. At least then I could have reason to complain if things don’t turn out the way I think they should!

But I’m realizing that God wants me to grow up…not to remain a child my entire life, taking orders and direction from someone else without any input from me. That’s being a puppet, and that’s not what I (or any of us) was created to be.

So while I can look ahead and see possibilities, my job right now is to spend some time listening…waiting…thinking…discerning–letting God move in my life, with a commitment to seek the presence, wisdom, and compassion of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of that life.


Tragedy…and prayers

I’ve lived most of my life in the Midwest and am used to hearing tornado watches around this time of year. I also remember my father driving us through the damage caused by the Ruskin tornado in 1957 (before we really understood the need to stay out of those areas). What struck me then was the randomness of the damage…a bathtub left standing on a foundation…straws driven into telephone poles…

But the tragedy in Moore, Oklahoma, yesterday is almost incomprehensible. To see a city almost completely wiped out…and to try to imagine a mile-wide (sometimes 2 miles wide) tornado that traveled 20 miles and was on the ground for 40 minutes…it just boggles my mind.

Extensive damage from an EF4 tornado destroyed cars and demolished structures in Moore on May 20.

It’s always tragic when individuals die in these kind of natural disasters–but it seems even more tragic when children are victims. Current reports indicate that at least 20 children are among the 51 reported dead, and the expectation is that this death toll will rise–including the number of children. It seems that it’s basically one classroom that’s missing.

I can’t imagine the sense of loss and devastation.

It would be horrible to lose one’s house and belongings…but they are simply “things.” To lose one’s child is to lose part of the future…to lose a piece of one’s heart.

Sometimes it seems like there is so little I can do. All I can do right now is hold up the families and rescuers and helpers in prayer…prayers for peace…strength…and yes, even hope.

If only…a church musician’s lament

The two words “if only…” are some of the most frustrating and sad words in the language to me. Often they are used when looking back with regret…wondering how life might have been different if only different choices had been made. While I believe there can be value in looking back in order to gain lessons for the future, the “if only…” way of looking back too often seems to lead into a pity-party kind of mentality. The past is what it is; it can’t be changed, and dwelling on what might have been only keeps us from seeing both what is and what still can be.

The other use of these two words that frustrates me is when I hear congregational members make comments like “If only our music was better in our services, our services would be so much more spiritual”…or “…we would have more people”…or  something else along those lines.

While I agree that good music in a service can definitely help the service (I am an organist, after all, and have been playing for church services for over 50 years), what often comes out in further discussion is that while congregational members want better music, they are not willing to respect the musicians! Seems to me there’s a significant disconnect there!!

What do I mean by respect? It really is fairly simple:

  • Give the musician the information about the service in sufficient time for them to be able to practice and be prepared.
  • Don’t tell the musician that you need them to play / sing something in the service–and then the morning of the service, tell them, “Oops…sorry…we decided not to use that after all.” Would you do that to the preacher?
  • By the same token, don’t come to them just before the service and say, “We need you to play / sing [insert song title] here in the service.” Some musicians might be comfortable with this, but it’s not fair to put them on the spot like that.
  • See the musicians as ministers of music. For most of us, we don’t offer our gifts simply as a job. We do see what we share as ministry.
  • If the offering is through being collected before the music is finished, don’t expect the musician to suddenly rewrite the music in order to immediately bring it to an end. Allow the piece to be finished.
  • Don’t talk during what we’ve prepared to offer. The music we have selected for a prelude has usually been carefully chosen–and practiced–to help bring the congregation into God’s presence. It is not simply music to provide a background for your visit with your neighbor. There is plenty of time for that after the service.
  • Be willing to mentor young musicians who want to bring ministry. Yes, they may not be perfect quality–but neither was your favorite preacher when they started. If they are not given opportunities to learn and to share, you might find yourself without any musicians one day in the not-too-distant future.
  • Yes, sometimes it’s easier to simply pop in a CD…but then we all miss something. We miss the opportunity of hearing someone share from their hearts…we miss the person-to-person connection, the intimacy and the ways that music can draw us together.

Every church musician I know recognizes that sometimes a last-minute change can’t be helped and is willing to work with that. But when / if that happens frequently, then it’s easy to become discouraged and cynical and feel that what you provide is simply filler (religious Muzak, if you will).

If we want music in our worships that will help us go deeper in our spiritual journey, then we have to do more than simply value music. We also have to value the musicians who provide it.

Invisible disabilities

I think that we’re all at least somewhat understanding when we see someone–child or adult–using crutches…wearing braces…in a wheelchair…walking with a white cane or a therapy dog. We’re willing to put aside our judgments…willing to give them a little more time…willing to make adaptions.

But what about those who have invisible disabilities? What then? Far too often, our willingness to suspend judgment and offer help fly out the window.

am one of those people. I have been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) since 1976. I’ve been very blessed and am still mostly mobile. But there are times–especially if I am tired or the weather is hot–that my invisible disability requires me to take advantage of my handicap license plates to find a close parking spot. When people see me get out of my car–especially if I’m driving–I can often see them looking me over, making a judgment on whether I “deserve” that spot…or am I just another one of those individuals who abuse the system?

I have a grandson who also has some of those invisible disabilities. He requires medications to help him function effectively–but even with them, he sometimes gets over-exuberant and somewhat obnoxious. Yes, I know that simply being a teenager means that obnoxiousness is part of life, but sometimes my grandson simply cannot cope with the situation around him and has a meltdown. Again, I can see people looking at him and wondering why his parents don’t have better control over him…and I can see them thinking “My child would never get away with that!”

In many ways we are fortunate, he and I. We are both able to live and function pretty normally with those things that help us.

However, there are many other families that deal with much more difficult invisible disabilities…and who have found that often dealing with them is made more difficult by our health system and by people who only see the outside and who make immediate judgments.

There’s an excellent article here about what it’s like to be the parent of a mentally ill child. And there’s also a wonderful video (below) about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

What if we were willing to live without being judgmental every day? What would it change? It would change us…and it would certainly change the lives of those many, many people who live every day with invisible disabilities.