Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tune In

Have you ever been in the middle of a problem in your life and you wanted to know what God was doing? Or why God was allowing problems to happen to you?

For me, those are the times when God speaks the most clearly…IN the problem.  I want to GET OUT of the problem, but God wants me to GET THROUGH the problem. 

You see, God wants to teach you and me THROUGH the problem.  We just need to tune in to what He is wanting say to us, to teach us.

Problems get our attention
Sometimes God has to use a problem to get our focus; and there is nothing like frustration or desperation to turn us directly toward God.  We get so distracted with life and with our goals or concerns.  We do more talking than we do listening.  

My grade school teacher used to tell our class that God gave us one mouth and two ears…I think that’s what she said….I’m not sure…I wasn’t listening. :)) What God wants to say to us is MUCH MORE important than what we want to say.  We must tune in to Him.

Problems force movement
Sometimes God is wanting us to move to something new that He has prepared for us, but we won’t budge.  We get too comfortable and settled where we are - we don’t like change.  We get scared of the thought of something new or different.  The truth is, we long for something fresh, new and exciting - God has more for us, yet He knows that we need some help getting there.

Stress is not always a bad thing.  Some stress is actually healthy and necessary for us.  The definition of stress is to press in with the outcome of forcing movement.  Pressure will eventually force some kind of movement.  Some stress is especially good for teenagers.  

I know many parents nag their teenagers about getting a job to make money and learn responsibility.  However, parents become frustrated when their kids ignore their preaching and continue to sit in their rooms playing video games or spending hours on their smart phones.  These kids HEAR the urging to get a job, but they don’t FEEL the need.  Why would they? Their parents still provide them with an air conditioned, safe home with a bed, bathroom, electricity.  They assume that having a cell phone is a basic human right.  

You see, it’s only when that teenager has all of that taken away for a time that they begin to FEEL the pain of no home to go to, no A/C turned on. No clean bathroom.  All of the sudden, that teenager begins to panic, they get very uncomfortable, they develop a sudden urgency to find a job.  When they get desperate, they become quite innovative and creative.  They don’t quit until they find some job and they understand that they have to perform well at the job to keep the job.  Stress is a GREAT MOTIVATOR.  Stress gets us moving in the right direction.

Problems bring new perspective
Before a problem comes, we tend to look at our life the same way.  But problems or crisis bring an opportunity to see a new angle in our situation.  Our nature is to solve the problem, and when we get stuck, we start looking for other ways we can get around the problem.  

I love playing with the Rubik’s Cube - I am a bit of a nerd.  I remember in the 1980’s when I first tried to solve the Cube - impossible.  I admit I became so frustrated that I started peeling the colored stickers off and resetting them to make it look like I matched all of the sides.  Stupid.  Now in the computer age, I have been able to read the tutorial online and learn the algorithms on when and where to turn the Cube.  

I can solve it every time! I am so smart now! :)) JK.  But, it sure feels great to at least be able to solve the Rubik’s Cube.  (A point of comfort - nobody could really solve the cube without the algorithms.)

Your problem can push you to look at your situation differently, to learn, to grow.  You will eventually grow bigger and have a wider, wiser view of the situation - the problem will seem smaller.  You may not be able to “solve” the problem, but your perspective will grow and you will learn to work around it or over it and move on to the greater things God has prepared for your life.

Problems are painful - they get us discouraged and stuck.  However, we can tune in to God to see what He is saying to us and what He wants to do in us.  God is faithful to get you THROUGH the problem.  Hold on, be patient, be teachable and learn.  You will come out of your situation stronger and wiser.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Self Discovery is the Best Teacher

I started piano lessons at 5 years old.  My mom found a piano teacher in a town 45 minutes away, because she heard he was a good teacher.  Looking back, we realize he was a “not-so-good” teacher.  He was a grumpy, old man who smoked heavily next to me as I nervously tried to follow his instruction.  My mom found a better teacher locally - an elderly lady who played the organ in a Lutheran church.  She was kind, but strict.  

In spite of these well-meaning but un-inspiring teachers, I fell in love with the piano and with music.  My dad was a gifted pianist and had a beautiful grand piano in our home in the front room, away from the television and kitchen area (that’s important by the way to have a music room separate and private.) 

My best piano lessons truly came from time by myself playing songs “by ear”.  At 13 years old, my dad could see that I was progressing slowly and painfully on the piano through conventional piano lessons and methods.  One day, he bought a new cassette tape and piano book (yes, cassette tape!!) of a new Christian artist, Michael W. Smith.  Michael W. Smith was a young, gifted piano player and used keyboards and synthesizers in his songs.  I was awe-struck ——  I was inspired immediately. 

I started listening to this fresh, new music and then went to the piano and tried to mimic it.  At first, I could just pick out the melody with one finger.  I tried opening the book of sheet music for the songs my dad had bought, but I was not really fast at reading music, and I was too impatient to have to pick out all of the notes.  I remember even bringing the stereo (which was big and heavy) in to the piano room and would play the cassette tape, pause it and then try to find the notes on the piano.  

Another method I learned to play the piano was by listening to my dad and grandma play the piano and organ in church.  After church, I would sneak up to the piano and try to mimic some of the musical passages and styles they would do.  Again, just a few notes and simple chords for a while - actually, frustrating and discouraging at times, because I could not play beautifully and fluidly like my dad could (he was great! one of the best.)

By 16 years old, I was now able to add more chords and fluency to my piano “vocabulary.” I was able to take the 10 songs I could imitate from the Michael W. Smith album, and also start to experiment some of the songs I knew from church and begin to discover new arrangements I could make on my own.  I loved Christian artists like Amy Grant, the Imperials, Russ Taff, Andrea Crouch.  I got really good at imitating their songs - quick to play exactly what I heard.  I started experimenting by transposing to other keys.  

I continued taking conventional piano lessons through all of this, learning classical.  That was helpful in rounding out my musical influence and ability, for sure.  But all of the Gospel, the Jazz, the church music and the modern music came through self discovery.  No one helped me with that - well….Michael W. Smith and my dad and grandma did :)  

One simple thought from my long narrative: Self Discovery is the best teacher.  

I have taught piano, voice and music for over 20 years.  I believe in music lessons and love great teachers.  But one concept I instilled in each student is that they MUST go on a personal odyssey of experimentation, of discovery for themselves.  They must find artists that inspire them, intrigue them and begin trying to imitate them.  It is difficult at first, but they will see themselves grow immensely.  Each “self lesson” will build on the next, and they will develop musical vocabulary - they will hone their musical ear to be quick and accurate.  

I know this is focused on the piano.  However, this concept of Self Discovery spills over in to all areas.  I believe the best athletes, the best public speakers, the best, artists, the best minds all do this.  

Challenge yourself to find something that inspires YOU, that intrigues YOU, and start your own, personal odyssey of self discovery!