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Monday, October 26, 2009

Granny's piano

On Sunday, our congregation gave Shawn and me a gift and individual cards to express their appreciation for our service at The Crossroads. When I opened my card in the car on the way home, I started to cry. You see, it has a picture of my Granny's piano on the cover. The place where I learned to love music.

Granny was about 4'11'', and her shape was quite round. She was delightfully soft and fluffy for a little red-headed girl who loved to sit in her lap and listen to stories and songs.

She lived in Memphis, about an hour and a half away from Jonesboro, where I grew up. She was single, divorced in an era when nice women didn't get divorced. She lived with my uncle for most of my childhood in an upstairs apartment in his home, later on she had a trailer close to her teaching job at a Christian school. We made the trek to see her on occasion, and she lived with us sometimes during the summers while my parents worked or went back to school to get their Master's degrees.

She taught me how to sew, how to crochet, how to make braided rag rugs, and how to tell when yeast rolls have risen to the perfect height to be baked. She let me stir her jelly, and told me stories. We made paper chains, cut out paper dolls from catalogs, and quilted my first nine-patch quilt for my barbie dolls. We sat side by side on the couch and spent lazy summer afternoons stringing cheap beaded necklaces, playing checkers, and simply reading away the afternoon. I read novels, she read her Bible. We shucked corn, shelled green beans, and planted flowers. At night she shared my canopy bed, and told me stories and scratched my back until I fell asleep. Those were delightful times. I was always sad to see her go.

But most of all, Granny loved music. In her younger years, she had a nice voice. By the time I came along, it had faded to a dim warble. She played the piano and the organ for her church. When I would go to stay with her some during the summers, I loved to go to her office at school. In her office, in a corner was a tiny white piano. It only had about 60 keys, and the paint was fading. I was taking lessons, and she would encourage me when I was frustrated. "Reese, you just got to learn a measure a time. Play that first measure till you get it right, then add the next. Tackle the song just one measure at a time." Is that not a great life lesson? How many things in life are too big to attack all at once? And how many things can be accomplished when you take it just one tiny piece after one tiny piece?

When I was 9, my family moved to Memphis for a season. It was a horrific move for us. I learned to hate school, and times were hard. My parents chose to continue my piano lessons with my Granny rather than with another teacher, even though it meant a 30 minute drive across town. Those 30 minutes were the best part of my week. As I sat on that bench with Granny as my teacher, I learned some great, but tough lessons. She was adamant that I would learn to play without looking at the keys. I had to wear a paper apron that covered the keys so that I could not see my fingers. There were many sour notes, but I did finally learn to play. It was a hard, many tears shed, type of lesson. However, it opened the gateway to a whole new level of playing. When you no longer need to look at your fingers, you can concentrate on reading much more complex music. Today it is one of the most valuable skills I possess. Being able to play without my sight frees me up to completely release in worship with my eyes closed. She taught me about perseverance - and about trusting my ability. More great life lessons.

Then there were the days that I came to lessons when we just chatted, or she would pull out old hymns and sit beside me and sing in her warbling voice as I haltingly played along. She began to teach me about God's love for me, and expressing love back to Him in music. There were times when she was busy with students who stopped by in distress and needed counseling, and I kept myself busy at the piano. Busy while I learned the importance of loving people even when they interrupt something important that you are doing.

She gave away her life as a teacher. She touched countless numbers of students through her classroom, through tutoring, and through teaching piano. In her last few years, she lived with my parents, in the basement. She brought some of her favorite pieces of furniture with her - including that old white piano. When I went home to visit, I would sit down at that now out of tune instrument and play for her. I had long since out distanced her musically and studied under another teacher, but I don't know that anyone else ever used music to teach me how to live.

At the end of her life, after my parents divorced, she moved into an apartment close to my dad. I had the opportunity to go stay with her a little while when she was in the hospital. Katie was a baby. I did not get to tell her all of these things about how much she meant to me. She was too busy asking me about my family, and our ministry, and seminary. Then she would drift off to sleep while I held her wrinkled hand with the gold and silver ring with fruit on it that she wore in place of a wedding ring.

I did not see her again. Her funeral was an amazing celebration of her life by her students, her children, and her grandchildren. She was not a perfect woman by any stretch of the imagination. I come by my stubbornness and hot temper honestly. But she loved me, and taught me the love of music.....that love that leads me into God's throne room and brings me crazy joy.

Wonder what ever happened to that old out of tune white piano?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Monday morning update 10.25.09

Today at The Crossroads, Shawn talked about embracing uncertainty as he continued his "chase the lion" sermon series. It was excellent, as usual. He talked about what all the disciples would have missed if they had refused to follow Jesus and had stayed with their fishing nets. They would not have seen the lame healed and the blind given their sight and the dead raised. That made me think long and hard about what is fear causing me to miss?

Worship went well. We did some pretty familiar stuff this week. Playing through "God of this City" made me remember how big the need is in our city and how much I need to pray for God sized opportunities to reach our city.

Our small group enjoyed a fish fry out near the lake tonight. I really enjoyed hanging out with friends and relaxing for a few hours before starting another crazy week.

But my best part of the day was my hour I spent running this afternoon. As I headed out the door, I hit shuffle on my iPod and just said a quick prayer "God you pick the music today". It was one of my best running playlists that I've had since that first run in the rain. Crowder, switchfoot, audio adrenaline, Tomlin, and Jeremy Camp all mixed in with some 80's rock when I needed to run faster. Then there were also some slow love songs (Norah) that as they played, I was reminded of God's great love for his church- and for me.

My time today was horrible because I kept stopping to worship and sing. My peak of worship came when I stopped to say thanks for the great playlist and for His presence. In the importance of things in the world, the music on my iPod is irrelevant. And yet God was not too busy to meet with me. Who am I that he would love me like that? That's when I lost it.

Then the next song was a John foreman song about how Christianity is not about the Sunday morning show and the shoes that you wear. It's about justice and love and ministering to the broken, wounded, and homeless. (the least of these). That's when conviction hit me hard. I spent much more time contemplating which cute shoes to wear to church today than I did in looking for opportunities to minister to hurting people. I want my faith to be an all consuming lifestyle, but I struggle so much with getting caught up in "the show" on Sunday. What has to be done to make the show happen? Who needs me next? How can we improve the show?

Not that trying to create an optimal worship environment is unimportant, but I think I need to seek out more important questions. Who's hurting and needs some love? Who's desperate and needs encouraged? How can I love God by loving others? Please pray that I will learn how to live God's priorities. It doesn't come easy for me.