So You Think You Can’t Sing!!

I was happily singing “The Orchestra Song” in fourth grade music class, when my music teacher sarcastically snipped, “You are not a violin!” He laughed and instructed me to try singing the clarinet part quietly.  The incident ranks very high on my list of most humiliating moments.

I learned the hard way that I couldn’t sing, and it took decades for me to unlearn that terrible lesson. I didn’t wait for someone to ask if I could sing, I volunteered the information every time I was in a singing situation to all those around me. It breaks my heart to hear someone say they can’t sing, dance, read, draw, or do any other activity that requires a particular skill. Doing begins with thinking, and a thoughtless remark can create the indelible tattoo “I can’t” on the heart of its recipient.

I’ve often wondered if my teacher realized the damage he did to my heart with his hateful remark. I’m not sure a comforting voice away from the class would have resulted in a different outcome, but it certainly would have been less humiliating than having to look at my peers while they enjoyed a good joke at my expense.

Fifty years later, during Holy Week of 2009, a very different teacher planted a singing seed in my heart. When I retired from teaching in 2007, I took on the job of Secretary/Treasurer at the church I was attending. My pastor, a former choral director, was in charge of music for the community Holy Week services and needed someone to accompany him. Those who had been helping him were not available, and he needed help.

When he asked me to sing, I thought he must be kidding. He knew how I felt about singing, so why would he ask me to sing in front of a group of people. I knew him well enough to know that he would never joke about something he knew was painful for me. He has a wonderful sense of humor, but I could tell by his countenance that he wasn’t kidding. The crowd was a loving group, so I decided to give it a shot.

As we practiced, John told me I had a beautiful voice. Again, I looked at him as if he had lost him mind; but he still had that serious look that let me know he wasn’t kidding. I lost myself in the songs and even sang a few verses alone. My heart was as light as it had ever been. When we got back to the church office, I asked him about ways to improve my voice. He gave me some pointers and explained that singing was mostly letting go and breathing. The rest could be learned in voice lessons. He said my voice fell naturally in the soprano range.

I floated out to the car that afternoon. I was a violin! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a clarinet; my mama had a beautiful alto voice which I tried to copy without success. In fourth grade, I was singing what felt right to me, and it turns out, I was right. My choir director and voice teacher both agree with John’s assessment. I am definitely a soprano.

When I decided to write this post, I looked up “The Orchestra Song” on youtube. My music teacher changed the words to the song. In his hateful version of the song, “the clarinet, the clarinet; he doesn’t know it but he learn it yet.” I remember that line vividly and decided, after trying to be a clarinet, that I was never going to get it.

Method and manner are very important when it comes to learning. My music teacher was a horrible example of what not to do. I thank God for placing another teacher in my path; the seed he planted eight years ago is finally beginning to bloom.

I decided to take voice lessons last month, and my teacher is amazing. I approached her after my grand daughters’ recital back in June and asked if she would be willing to teach me. She said she would love to. During the first lesson, she told me that she envied my range,  but my natural singing voice was a soprano. While practicing my “mee, mee, mees” during one lesson, she beamed and said, “Wow! What a wonderful meee!”

I laughed and replied, “I’ve been working on that me for fifty-five years!!”

 

Off the Deep End!

Depth has been at the heart of God’s lessons this week, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when He reminded me of the time daddy threw me into the deep end of an ice cold swimming pool. I smiled as I recalled that image this morning, but there was nothing funny about it when it happened.

I was almost ten years old, and we were visiting my aunt and uncle who lived in a small cabin nestled in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Aunt Edith and Uncle Dave had no electricity or running water, so they had an outhouse instead of a bathroom. I didn’t know Uncle Dave was a wealthy man until after he died. Aunt Edith didn’t know they had money either. When she realized she had over a million dollars, her response was, “I don’t care what anybody says, I’m buying a washer and a dryer!!” She was as sweet and innocent as Dave was mean and spiteful. She ended up sharing her money with all of her sisters and brothers because she believed it to be the right thing to do. I could just imagine Uncle Dave flipping over in his grave!

Uncle Dave didn’t spend money on anything but land, and he bought a lot of it. One of his properties was a hunting lodge with a pool. Daddy and Dave took my sisters and I over for a swim during one of our visits. I didn’t realize it belonged to my uncle. I figured he either knew the person who owned the house or was simply trespassing. The lodge was deep in the woods, and the pool was not heated. The water had to be sixty degrees or less on that cool fall afternoon.

I’m not sure why daddy threw me into the deep end of that pool, but it was probably because he wanted to teach me how to swim. Daddy and Uncle Dave enjoyed drinking white lightning when they got together, and I’m sure they dipped into Dave’s stash while we were at the lodge. Whatever the catalyst, I found myself suddenly catapulted through the air and submerged in an unwelcome icy bath.

Choking and splashing, I thrashed the water violently until I reached the side of the pool. I got out shivering in shock while trying to figure out what had just happened. I was used to trying to figure out what I had done after being beaten or drop kicked across a room, but daddy hadn’t hit me since I went into the lake and almost drowned at five.

The cold water brought back memories of a different time when the muddy water of Lake Hickory drew me under and almost ended my life. I walked willingly into that warm water and hadn’t struggled at all. Daddy jumped in and jerked me out of the water then, so why in God’s name had he so mercilessly thrown me into the deep end of this frigid pool.

I got my answer when I surfaced and saw Uncle Dave and daddy laughing out loud. Dave may have told daddy to throw me in, or daddy may have come up the teaching strategy on his own. Either way, I learned to swim that day. The crash course worked, and I swam in survival mode for the next fifty years. When I moved in with my son and his family a few years ago, the house came with a beautiful pool. I learned to relax and swim, even in the deep end, because I didn’t want my fear the water to become my granddaughters’ fear.

Last month, I relaxed and let the warm, soothing salt water lift my body and my spirits as I swam with abandon in my sister’s beautiful pool. Relaxing works wonders when it comes to swimming, and it’s also great when it comes to loving as God desires. I’m learning the more I relax, the deeper I can go 🙂

Drive or Driven?

There’s a world of difference between drive and being driven. My life has been one of being driven. Driven to succeed, driven to mend, driven to be good, driven to do good, driven to find answers. I lost my drive in the process of being driven…….

There’s nothing wrong with having drive, but there is something inherently wrong with being driven. Drive is a good thing. Encyclopedia.com defines drive as an”energizing force directed towards a particular goal or objective. Drives may be innate (physiological) or acquired (learned).” Simply put, we are born with some drives and we learn others. I believe, with some exceptions, it is our learned drives that cause the problems.

Being driven is defined as “motivated by or having a compulsive quality or need” according to Google. Need drives, and I go along for the ride. Nowhere has this been more evident than in my desire to serve God. I was driven by that need for forty-two years and found myself at the bottom of a huge pile of ashes when my need and I finally crashed. Being driven ends badly and the wreck that results is never pleasant. I’m just thankful my heart is still in one piece!

God is a god of restoration Who waits for me to come to Him. I first came to Him in 1964 when I realized He loved me. Knowing that brought me out of the deep darkness in which I was drowning. It was great to be on dry land, but I was in no condition to be driving. Instead of relying on His love to lead, I did what I did best. I did! I was driven to do and was determined to show God how much I loved Him by doing and doing and doing.

After forty-two years of doing, I finally came to a place of stopping that was more about giving up than resting. I reveled in the emptiness for almost a year before I was drawn to a little church across the street from my new apartment. God bid me to check it out because He knew I needed a community, and He knew the peace I was trying to create on my own was there if I would trust His love to lead and not fall back into old patterns.

After nine months of healing worship, I was ready to become part of the work of the body of believers God placed in my path. It wasn’t the first church I ever joined, but it was the first one where I didn’t feel driven to do so. I was drawn to the love they had for God and one another, and I was drawn to the work they were doing in the community.

I was driven into the desert in 1964 because I needed a desert. It took forty-two years for me to learn the lessons God had for me there. It took Israel almost as long, so I don’t feel bad about my time there. In fact, I cherish all that brought me to this place of peace.

Love is the innate, energizing, driving force I now feel, and it is bringing the sweet peace and holiness I need to move on to all God has in store. Levity is important when it comes to love and to drive. I hope to remember that as I move forward. God reminded me that being driven is part of the process of learning to drive a car, and the same is true for hearts.

 

 

 

Never a Boaring Moment

Nothing is better for my body my early morning hike up Indian Creek, but my heart got an extreme workout this morning when I saw two wild pigs. Rita and I heard a loud noise coming from below the trail when we were about two miles into our walk. I knew this was not the gentle deer we had come across on Wednesday, and it wasn’t large enough to be a black bear. My heart stopped when I saw the head of a large boar. He jumped up and took off with a smaller pig following closely behind him. They were down by the creek, so I didn’t wet my pants. I turned around quickly, grabbed Rita’s hand, and headed very rapidly down the steep hill we had just managed to trudge up.

When we finally could talk, we laughed about getting our heart rates to a new level!! I told her I only grabbed her hand so she wouldn’t run off without me. We laughed out loud about our reaction to the boar, but we also know that there’s nothing funny about a wild boar attack. We were on high ground looking down, and that’s exactly where you want to be when you see a wild boar or a mama with babies, God forbid!! The taller and higher the better with wild pigs. Never crouch down or lay down if you happen to have an encounter.

Most of the damage done by wild pigs is the erosion their rooting causes, but everybody around here knows they are the last animal you want to encounter on the trail. They are famous for their tenacity and the animal I most fear seeing on the trail. Boars, snakes, and bears round out the top three. Snakes and bears are afraid of people and will normally take off when they hear or see a person. Boars have a great sense of smell and avoid people if possible, but they do not back down if confronted.

They say the best way to avoid an attack is to climb at least six feet up a tree. In normal circumstances,  I don’t think I could get that far up a tree; but this morning, I would have climbed ten feet if those pigs had come after us. Getting down would have been the problem. I’m sure they would have had to cut down the tree and slipped me off because I don’t think they would have been able to pry my hands off the branch!

The beauty of the woods is that there is never a dull moment, but I have to say it was definitely a boar today 😉

 

Having a Mama Spirit

Mama died seven years ago, but I still think of her every day. She was, and always will be, more than just my mama. We were kindred spirits who understood and loved one another in a very special way. Mama wasn’t like anyone else, and neither am I. Since her death, I’ve come to accept and love who I am. She would be happy to know that. She warned me about the hurt that comes with being different, but I learned that on my own at a very young age. It was indelibly tattooed on my heart at the age of six.

Knowing I am loved enables me to love myself just as I am and others as they are. Mama was trying desperately to tell me something just before she died, but she was too weak to form the words. I believe she wanted to remind me to just be me and not worry if others didn’t understand. She understood that struggle better than most and knew I did, as well. I’ve changed a great deal since mama died, and I’m happy to say that my heart is finally wide open. I am free to be who God created me instead of who others think I should be. 

The lessons of late have been about being who I am, loving others as they are, and letting the Holy Spirit do the rest. I used to think I had to be who I could never be and try to help others to be the same. That sounds ridiculous now, but it’s been the underlying theme of my life. It may take a while for me to comprehend God’s lessons, but I don’t forget them once I do.

Mama’s name was Mary, and she reminds me of a friend of Jesus with the same name.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42 NASB

Commentaries differ on the meaning of this story, but the lesson God has for me in it is crystal clear. It’s okay to be who I am even if I, or others, do not understand. Mary and Martha are very different, and there is nothing wrong with either. The thing that is wrong in this story is thinking that others should be like me or allowing others to make me believe I should be like them. I can relate to Mary because I love getting lost in God’s Word; not everyone understands that, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.

I thank God for placing those in my path who share their love of God’s Word with me. I could sit for hours talking about scripture. I know the dishes have to be washed, and I will eventually get to them; but when I’m in God’s Word, I can’t see or hear anything else. My mama had a sweet, loving spirit and was often lost in thought. I’m so thankful I am the same way and thank God for giving me a “mama spirit” that allows me to get lost in His Word the way Mary was lost when Jesus spoke.

 

Take a Deep Breath….

I’ve been getting therapeutic massages for the past month to alleviate the stiffness and pain that has plagued me all winter. I have arthritis in my hip, knee, and shoulders, but walking and exercising have always been enough to keep my joints flexible and pain free. The pain began to spread in January, and my body felt like rusting metal left out in the rain. By the end of March, I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t want to go the pain killer route until trying other options.

My daughter-in-law in a wonderful massage therapist who is in business with her dear friend Braden. I decided to give massage a chance before heading to the doctor’s office. I’ve had massages in the past, but I always opted for the “feel good” Swedish or hot stone massages. I had one deep tissue massage years ago and decided it was far too painful to have another. I suppose I wasn’t ready to give up those knots 🙂

The tough winter left me desparate to be rid of the stiffness and pain, so I went to Braden and asked if she could help. She listened lovingly to my concerns and said she believed she could relieve the pain and the stiffness. She warned me that it would not be pain free or easy. I would have to be willing to endure the discomfort, stretch, and relax. I agreed, and we began the treatments the last week of March.

I got relief after our first session, but I soon learned that my muscles weren’t the only things getting a workout. Some knots were rooted in my poor posture, lack of stretching, arthritis, and an injury from an accident a year ago; but more of them came from hidden hurts that needed to come to the surface. I experienced weeping during a massage years ago and was told it was perfectly normal for massage to bring emotional pain to the surface. I went into the treatments determined to let go of all my knots and allow the healing God had in mind take place.

Braden and I prayed that God would use her hands to help me heal and that I would be able to relax and not get in the way. I have a hard time relaxing, and I’m finding that keeps me from fully experiencing much of what God has in mind for me. It is, and always has been, hard for me to be still. I realized yesterday that the choice is mine. I can relax into obedience or let fear stiffen me into stillness. With the Spirit’s help and a loving massage therapist, fear is losing its hold on me.

If you’d had a deep tissue massage, you know the level of pain released when knots are untied. Braden knew I was hurting and felt my muscle tensing when she hit a particularly painful knot in my neck. She quietly told me to take a deep breath and continued pushing on the sore spot. I wanted to tell her to stop, but I wanted healing more. I realized I was holding my breath and bracing for the pain, something I’ve done all my life. I let go of my breath and took in a long, deep breath. I was shocked at the difference it made as she worked the tension out of the twisted muscle.

God never ceases to amaze me with His powerful lessons, but the sweet message that came during my massage yesterday was one I will not soon forget. Relaxing isn’t possible in the presence of fear, but God’s love banishes fear once, and for all.

1 John 4:18 says it best.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” NLT

Love, breath, and spirit are all one. I knew that but didn’t fully know it until that deep breath helped me relax into healing on that massage table. I have been holding my breath expecting punishment all of my life. I’ve felt unworthy of love, especially God’s. I have no problem loving God and loving others. I do love and love completely. I just cannot seem to take in the love as deeply or fully as God would like. He knows love and breathing go hand in hand, so He bids me to take a deep breath and fully experience His perfect love and the love of those around me.

I am struck by the image of the bride in Revelation 21:1-6 and heard two very beautiful messages on that passage last week. My heart was broken when I saw myself as less than a beloved bride, but God made it clear to me yesterday that I have been, am, and always will be His beloved bride. Nothing can ever change His perfect love for me, but I can miss it by holding my breath and believing fear’s vicious lie that I am not a beloved bride. I plan to relax, breathe deeply, and fully experience all the love God has in store for me.

Heartburn and Heartbreak

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I think that’s a lot of sexist nonsense; but God did manage to get to my heart through my stomach this week, so maybe there is something to the old saw.

I’ve suffered from acid reflux for three months, and it’s driven me to distraction. The nagging burn of stomach acid in my throat was becoming common place because I opted to eat what I wanted to eat, carry antacids around with me, and accept the burning as my new normal.

My father used to tell me that I was born hungry and would die hungry. I told him I planned to eat as much as I could in between. I was born prematurely and couldn’t nurse or suck a bottle, so mama cut a hole in the nipple of a bottle and let the formula flow into my mouth a few drops at a time. She was afraid I would choke, so the process took forever. According to daddy, she fed me every five minutes. He attributed her obsession with feeding with my obsession with eating. That theory made perfect sense because I turned to food when I was hurting, and I ate all the time.

Weight was never a problem when I was growing up. I was tiny in elementary school and stayed a constant 110 pounds throughout high school and college. I ate heartily, five meals most days. The first time I gained a lot of weight was when I was pregnant with my son, but most of that came off as soon as I got home. My sweet son filled a void that needed filling, so I put all my energy into loving him. In my forties, a slower metabolism and a broken heart took a terrible toll on my heart. I couldn’t keep up any more. In fact, I didn’t want to keep up any more.

My heart’s hunger has always been greater than my stomach’s desire to be filled; so when the two pains merged, food became my drug of choice. I cooked and served and pretended all was well. Mama taught me much more than how to cook. Her death left my heart in a lurch I’ve been trying to crawl out of for six years. I gained twenty-two pounds trying to recreate the comfort of her unconditional love. The more I tried, the more I failed. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I kept on doing it because I couldn’t face the truth.

Thanking God for acid reflux may sound bizarre, but that’s exactly what I found myself doing yesterday. If you’ve ever had acid reflux, you know it will not be ignored. It’s been nagging me unmercifully for three months, and I finally had enough on Tuesday.

I love researching, so I took to the internet to find answers. I was tired of hurting and ready to change my ways. I found a list of foods that cured and a list of foods that caused acid reflux and decided to give it a try. On Wednesday, I ate only foods that cured and avoided all foods that caused. I couldn’t believe the difference and kicked myself for waiting so long to do the right thing.

God used my relief to remind me that my heart needed relief as well. It had been broken for a very long time and it was affecting my health and my happiness. I took a hard look at my heart habits and realized I had some changes to make. No one knows my heart better than God, so I turned to Him for answers.

It isn’t easy to give up what I want. I missed having coffee, chocolate, and cheese on Wednesday, but I did not miss the terrible burning that came with their consumption. It is human nature to want what isn’t good for me, but God showed me that what He wants for me is so much better than what I want for myself. His lists for living aren’t designed to punish or deny; they are designed with a full heart in mind.

My heart and belly have been full of good things for the past two days, and I’ve lost a pound in the process. I wasn’t thinking about my weight on Wednesday. I simply wanted the pain to stop. God showed me that doing the right thing is the simple solution for both heartburn and heartbreak.

I had to laugh when I thought of Paul in Romans 7:19 last night. I decided to eat a little chocolate before heading to bed, and I immediately regretted that decision.

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

Maybe writing that little verse a few hundred times will help me remember to stick to the good list when it comes to my tummy and my heart 🙂