The Broken Piano

“Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes.”

The caustic comment from the piano tuner who had curled up his nose at my old spinet piano has bothered me for fourteen years, though I’ve had a hard time figuring out why.

I thought maybe it was the man’s attitude when he entered my home. I had been desperately searching for a tuner willing to take on my pawn shop find but from the moment this guy laid eyes on it, his annoyed smirk told me the piano didn’t meet his criteria. Maybe it was the chipped places around its edges. Or perhaps the slightly yellowed keys. I don’t know. But before he even sat down to play it, he judged it and found it lacking. 

Looking over the brim of his glasses, he shot me a scolding glare. “You are a musician, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should be asking me to tune a baby grand then. Or least a piano with some kind of merit. But this…,” he shook his head sadly, “this piano is not fit for a musician.”

He then launched into a sales pitch about the wonderful pianos he had for sale in his store and grew agitated when I wouldn’t bite. Needless to say, that was my one and only experience with that particular tuner.

Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes…

I thought perhaps his statement bothered me because it was the lead in to his sales pitch. But no, that particular comment has circled around and around in my brain for fourteen years. It bothers me. It shouldn’t. That piano has been long gone and I haven’t seen that tuner since the day of his barbed comment yet it nags me. Why? broken piano keys

I finally figured it out.

Recently a friend sent me an email about a little boy who somehow escaped his mother at a prestigious concert hall and crawled up on stage plunking himself right next to a world renown pianist just before the man was beginning his concert.

boy at the piano

The little tyke clumsily tapped around on the keys before looking up to the famous pianist with a grin. The poor mother was horrified and jumped out of her seat, preparing to retrieve her wayward son but the pianist only smiled down at the little boy and begin to imitate the toddler’s finger strikes. Then something amazing happened.

As the little boy squealed with delight and pounded the keys harder, the pianist began to improvise melodies over the boy’s tapped notes. The entire audience was spellbound. When the little boy finally tired of the game, he hopped down and the musician stood and applauded him, causing the entire crowd to cheer and smile.

I love that story. And in a flash, I finally understood why that tuner’s comment bothered me.

Great musicians are not great because they have the finest instruments in their homes. They aren’t great because their fingers and ears are only trained for the best the world has to offer, or because they have sold X number of CDs or because they fill up concert halls. A real musician can make music out of the hardest situation. It doesn’t matter whether the keys are chipped, whether it’s a Bosendorfer or a dusty spinet, whether the action is smooth like honey or stilted, or even whether a little boy interrupts their Rachmaninoff moment.

The sign of a great musician is not in owning the finest instruments, but the ability to make the most broken instruments sing once more. broken keys

From this perspective, God is the greatest musician of all. He takes our broken strings, chipped edges, places His hands on those battered keys and coaxes out a song. A melody. An unspoken story. And the more broken the instrument, the more amazing His ability to make it sing.

Do you feel broken, chipped or used up? Don’t let the enemy’s lies discourage you. You are valuable and treasured. God doesn’t have a room full of glistening new grand pianos. He prefers the spinets.

Under his touch, they make the sweetest melodies.

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The Seeing Blind

In this present darkness, most of us feel oppressed at every turn. We sense spiritual forces battling it out. Good versus evil. Angels versus demons. Light against shadows. We’ve been taught to be good soldiers for Christ. Take up our cross and fight. Fight for truth. Fight for our children. Fight, well, for everything.

boxing ali

Speaking the truth is always the right thing to do. We must speak what God has declared to be true, omitting nothing. But one thing most of us forget is this: truth never needs a defender. It stands on its own. That’s what makes it truth.

And as far as the cosmic battle goes? The war has already been won. Yet some of us speak and argue and live our lives like the outcome of the spiritual war depends solely on our own effort.

fight from victory

In the past few years, I’ve traveled to many churches, speaking and singing, sharing the transformative power Jesus has displayed in my life. One thing I’ve noticed is that far too many churches are pounding the horribleness of sin, which is true, but no mention is made of forgiveness for the sinner. We talk of the heartbreaking slaughter of millions of innocent babies through abortion, shake our heads and take up arms, yet how many women sit in the congregation silently bowing their head in shame because they were one of the scared souls who made a choice that has now haunted and scarred them forever?

We talk about staying away from vices like pornography and the foul decay it brings to our minds, while a teenage boy on the back row struggles with the images his brain refuses to erase…images he was forced to see by an abusive father who thought showing such things to his young son would ‘make a man out of him’.

peter-sjo-190966

Alcoholics and adulterers, drug users and ex-cons, the hot-tempered and misfits. They are desperately trying to hide their past. To fit in. To pretend it never happened. That the scars they wear are not visible still.

And while we’re busy shaking our fists at sin, and the world’s system, boycotting and ranting on social media about the very things Jesus told us the world would never understand, the hurting Jesus entrusted to our care are bleeding at our feet. And we don’t even notice. We’re so consumed with our righteous indignation, we’re blinded to the broken.

My personal opinion is this: generally speaking, the world should know us by what we’re for…not by what we’re against.

Please don’t misunderstand. This is not a call to stop fighting the good fight. Far from it. But in our zeal, may we be careful to keep compassion before campaigns. Truth should never trample love.

The gospel was never meant to shame the sinner. The gospel of Jesus is Good News. The God of the universe not only sees you, but outrageously, desperately loves you so much He died to make you His. This is a scandalous love. This is what we should be shouting through the streets. This is what we should be flooding through social media. This is the One Who can transform your life from broken to beautiful. Jesus.

In our lists of all the things that God is and what God does and doesn’t do, what He embraces and what He cannot, let us never forget this most beautiful, fundamental, and scandalous truth…the truth that all else rests upon: God is love.

ephesians 3

The Mean Stepsister

 

fairytaleRedemption is a beautiful thing. There is something so poignant, something almost sweeping and, dare I say, romantic about someone with power and position plucking a nobody from the crowd and claiming them as their own. Perhaps that’s why I’ve so frequently heard the Gospel compared to a fairy tale story. A king sweeping the lonely girl away to a land where all her dreams come true.

Not long ago, I heard someone compare what God has done to the story of Cinderella. I understand the gist of this kind of thinking, but it just doesn’t ring true. Not for me. See, Cinderella was pure and sweet and perfect. She deserved to win the heart of the prince. We root for her from the very beginning. We see how blameless she is. We witness the unjust circumstances thrust upon her and pray that all will be right in the end. And it is.

But I’m not Cinderella.

I’m not perfect. I’m the one setting traps for the mice and chasing the too-cheerful birds away with a broom. Too often I’m the selfish, mean stepsister, demanding my own way, wanting what I want now! stepsisterScheming, manipulating, taking whatever scraps of affection are dropped my way because, deep down, I’m so hungry for love, I’m sick with it. The only way I know to get love is to whine, parade, beg, and needle. Be more. Say more. Be seen. Be heard. And I turn myself into a royal pain in the process.

So there I stand in the middle of the crowded ballroom, watching all the beautiful girls around me, feeling ugly and out-of-place. My Jimmy Choos are actually knock-offs I found in a bargain basement and they pinch my toes. My spanx are too tight and I feel fat. Worse yet, I know how cruel I can be to those I love most. I see the bright eyes and dazzling smiles of all the other women and I know…I’ll never measure up. The Prince will never want me.

But then He turns to me and smiles. He extends his hand and asks me to dance. Me? No. I shake my head. Tears burn my eyes. He doesn’t understand. If He only knew. If He could only see the ugliness inside. hand

“No, my Lord,” I cry, tears weaving warm tracks down my face, “I’m not worthy. I’m ugly and mean. Broken. You don’t want me.”

The Prince smiles and tucks my hand into his. “Ah, but don’t you know? I mend the broken.”

The Gospel is not a message of God reaching down to elevate those who already have it together. The Good News is that He laid down His life and rose again to save broken and messy people who cannot save themselves. The Gospel is power, dynamite, revolutionary…an inside-out and upside-down message of hope for the unlovable.

It turns murderers into preachers.

It changes thieves into saints.

It transforms mean stepsisters into Cinderellas.

And isn’t that good news?

 

The Redemption of Kip

“Runt.”

“He’ll never live.”

“He’s so scrawny.”

I don’t know what I did wrong. I was born, I guess. While all my brothers and sisters were cute, wriggly little pups, I was the outcast. Never expected to do much. To be much.

At the pet store, the chubby, groping fingers of girls and boys would rove over all of our heads, scratching our ears, picking us up and snuggling their cheeks next to ours. Such happy feelings filled me, I couldn’t help but lick their giggling faces with big swipes of my tongue. But eventually those happy feelings died as I was set back down in my kennel. And one by one, my siblings were slowly sold and taken away.

kip

All except me.

Day after lonely day passed inside the pet store. The rubber toys and squeaky play things lost their luster as I sat and looked out the window, waiting for…somebody. I didn’t even know who. But surely somebody out there wanted me. Surely someone would love me, if they could just meet me. I was getting bigger. Growing stronger, wasn’t I?

The bell overhead jangled and my ears perked up. The noisy parrot in the corner squawked as an old man entered. His pale blue eyes roved over the animals, his blue-veined, knobby hands grasping a cane as he shuffled from cage to cage. His gaze latched on to mine and I sat upright, wagging my tail and trying all the tricks that had worked so well for my brothers and sisters. Wag the tail, blink big, cock my head sideways. But the old man frowned as he turned to the pet shop owner.

“This pup here. What breed is he?”

The big man shrugged. “I don’t know. Mutt, best I can figure. Sold off his siblings already. Can’t seem to get rid of him though.”

The old man narrowed his eyes. “What’s his name?”

“Runt.”

Muttering under his breath, the old man turned and walked away.

Something cold and hard sank in my middle.

Days turned blurry and dull, until one afternoon my dreamless sleep was interrupted by rough hands shaking me, pulling me. I didn’t understand what was happening, what strange cruelty was being inflicted. The big man growled and pawed at me. His thick fingers hurt as I wriggled and thrashed. He cursed and clamped his hands around my legs.

“You little mongrel! I’m just trying to move you to a different crate!”

Something sharp knifed up my back and I did the only thing I knew to do. I clamped my teeth into his hand. He bellowed. The floor rushed up to meet me. Pain exploded through my body. Heart thumping, I eyed the front door, could smell the fresh air as the door swung wide to admit a family of shoppers.

Runt.

He’s so scrawny.

Can’t seem to get rid of him…

open door

With the sound of rushing water in my ears, I scrambled to run, my paws clicking against the linoleum as I sprinted through the door and into the crowded city street. Away from cages and cranky men. Away from mean words.

Freedom. Maybe my somebody would find me now.

I ran and ran. Maybe for days. Nights were the worst. So cold and dark. Hunger cramped my middle. I wandered in between buildings, nosing through trash for scraps of anything I could eat, stepping between waste and sleeping humans. I shivered, curling up in patches of light from back doorsteps, hoping the meager warmth would somehow seep deep inside my body.

alley

I grew bigger, no longer a runt, but still, no one wanted me. One day I found a group of children playing outside a park. I walked slowly towards them, my tail wagging. Was my somebody with them?

But when they turned and saw me, they chased me, throwing rocks and calling me names. Kicking and hitting.

I never approached a human again.

One cold afternoon, a man in a uniform sneaked up behind me and somehow managed to get me into a big moving box that carried me to a building. It was like the pet store but different. The crates were smaller and there were no windows. I could hear other animals barking and meowing. The man who’d caught me patted me on the head as he eased me into the crate.

“Poor fellow. We’ll find you a home. Somebody will want to adopt you.”

I put my head on my paws. He was wrong. I don’t have a somebody. No one has ever wanted me.

Each day passed, people came and went. Eyes peered in to see me but I barely noticed. I gave up the tricks to catch their attention. They didn’t work. Never had.

One day, the Nice Man who always stopped to pat my head strapped a red tag to my crate, his eyes sad. I knew what that meant. I had seen it happen enough. Red tags were attached to a crate. The next day the animal inside was taken away. They didn’t come back.

Bowing his head, the Nice Man murmured some soft words and scratched my ears with a sigh. Then he left.

I guess I fell asleep, for the sound of a slamming door jarred me awake. I didn’t sit up. In truth, I barely cracked open my eyes. What was the point? I would be taken away soon, never to come back.

Footsteps approached. The Nice Man was speaking softly, his voice echoing off the loud walls.

“This fellow is scheduled to be put down tomorrow. Shame too. He’s seems awfully sweet. Sad.”

Another man stooped down to peer inside. I sighed and looked away, not interested to be poked, prodded or ridiculed by another cruel human.

“Mm. What’s his name?”

“His tag was hard to read when he came in, all scratched and busted up. Looked like he’d been out on the streets for a while. We think it said Runt.”

The stranger with the deep voice stepped closer and squatted, resting his arms on his knees and watched me. This one wasn’t going away. With another sigh, I kept my head on my paws and turned to give him a disinterested stare. He met my look with a smile.

“No, Runt doesn’t suit this guy at all. He’s far too big. Aren’t you?”

His eyes looked into mine and something deep inside me flared to life. I lifted my head.

kip adult

The nice man motioned to the other crates. “If you’d rather see some of the pups…”

“No.” The stranger stopped him with a raised hand. “This fellow and I are talking.” He chuckled. “May I?” At the Nice Man’s nod, he unlatched the crate and reached in, rubbing his hands through my fur with a soft touch…caresses that both soothed and made me feel protected. Like how I used to feel nuzzled up next to Momma so long ago. Loved. I savored the sensation, needy for it as they talked.

“I’ve been away fighting.”

“Finally home?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve wanted a dog ever since I was a little boy.” He chuckled when I leaned into his hand. “This fellow and I, I think we belong together.”

This stranger wanted me? No, I must have heard wrong.

The Nice Man watched us. “Most folks come in here wanting a cute little puppy, some perfect looking puff of fur that will make their kids squeal.” He smiled. “Runt is older, bigger. He’s not cute and fluffy like the other breeds. You sure?”

The stranger cupped my face in his hands and leaned in so close, his eyes were almost touching mine. “Love doesn’t only rescue the pretty or the preferred. Love pursues the broken, the needy, the unwanted and the outcast.”

He leaned his head against mine and rubbed his hands through my fur. I shivered as my chest beat in loud thumps. This stranger was my Somebody. He wanted me.

My Somebody leaned back and smiled. “First things first. We must get rid of that name. You’re no Runt. Not in my eyes. Let me think.” His eyes lit up as he snapped his fingers. “How about Kip?”

I barked and leaped from my crate, wriggling and squirming around my Somebody with prancing steps. I have a new name! Kip!

My Somebody laughed. “Kip it is! And it means ‘one from the high hill’.” Leaning down he rubbed my head and winked. “Appropriate, since I live in a big house, high on a mountain.”

Lifting my front paws, I scooted and wiggled as long as I dared on my back legs, barking with happiness when my Somebody burst into laughter. The Nice Man watched us, his mouth open.

“Look at that. I’ve never seen Run—er, Kip so happy before.”

My Somebody scooped me up in his arms and I laid my head on his shoulder, my entire body quivering with joy. He placed his hand on my head, and for the first time I noticed the scars that marred his palms and wrists. somebody and kip

He turned to leave but stopped and smiled over his shoulder.

“Well, that’s the thing about love. Not only does it pursue the unwanted, love also transforms.”

A big thank you to Donnie Haynes for inspiring the story of Kip. A simple, yet profound thought in your sermon at Bogg Springs let my imagination take flight.

Plot Twist!

“Plot twist!”

It’s what I yell out in the middle of a chaotic day. It’s what I mutter to myself when I’ve blocked off writing time only to discover my three year old has found a sharpie and is chasing the cat through the house threatening to give him a new fur-do. “Plot twist” is what I choke out with a cringe when I’m scheduled to speak at an event but sense the tell-tale signs of a migraine screaming in to ruin the day. “Plot twist” is what I sigh when the checking account is too low for comfort, or when my children have a melt-down or when a loved one receives an unwelcome diagnosis.

plot twist

Life has a way of throwing our good intentions right out the window…if we let it.

For years I thought that to write, my little nest had to be in order first: the floors swept, the dishes washed, the kids quietly working on some James Dobson-approved project. When all was quiet, when all was calm, then I would be able to sit down to my laptop and pour out my heart.

It hasn’t happened yet.

Likewise, some of us say we can’t be used by God until we get our act together, until our children stop rebelling, until our finances are secure, when our health is better or when we’ve figured out the reason for our own hot-mess cycles of behaviors and mistakes.

The problem? If we wait to be used by God, to yield to him only when our life is perfect, it will never happen.

life roller coaster

The Mayberry mentality is not realistic. We may have good days here and there, days that trick us into thinking every day should flow as smoothly, but the majority of the time life throws us curve ball after curve ball. Plot twists and changes. And then what do we do? Wait for perfection before we live our life? Do we wait for everything to be rosy before we get on with kingdom work?

That’s not what God says is going to happen.

I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.] -John 16:33 AMP

The good news is, God meets us in our chaos. When we are at our most strung-out and overwhelmed, that is when He shows himself strong.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.” Isaiah 43:2

Even though some days I fight against the uncomfortable sensation of being stretched, I have found I’m actually better at writing when I embrace the chaos, because that is where God takes over. Who wouldn’t want the Author of Life guiding the words flowing from heart to pen? And those days when there are so many unexpecteds that I’m scanning the horizon for a plague of locusts to arrive? God fills the gap between my weakness and my need. Not for my glory, but for His. when you pass through deep waters

“…for this reason, to keep me from thinking of myself as important, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan, to torment and harass me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might leave me; but He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My loving kindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively]in [your] weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:7-9 AMP

Embrace the uncomfortable. Lean in to those plot twists, for that is where God shows Himself strong. He’s not “just enough”. He’s more than enough.

Have you ever told yourself God can’t use you until _____________…? Have you been frustrated searching for the perfect day, the perfect time, or the perfect life that never arrives? How has God met you in your need and showed Himself powerful in your life?

 

How Charlotte Elliott Caught My Attention

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

Maybe it was demands of starting a new home school year. Perhaps it was the accomplishment of several large ministry projects that used up the last of my physical reserves. Maybe it was downward spiral of health issues or even the enemy on the prowl, looking for a way to attack. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, my battery was empty. Crawling out of bed each day took enormous energy. I was in pain and exhausted. To use a Southern turn of phrase…I was dragging tail.

I began to wonder, “What if feeling this way becomes a permanent thing? Maybe God is done with me. What if I fail my kids? What if I never feel better?” land of what ifs

What Ifs are a poor way to live.

Just when I thought those what ifs might become a reality, God reminded me of Charlotte Elliott.

Do you know her story? Let me explain.

Charlotte Elliott was an invalid most of her life. Many times her weak and painful condition caused her frustration and depression. These feelings grew stronger in 1836, when her brother, H.V. Elliot, was raising funds for St. Mary’s Hall at Brighton, England, a college for the daughters of poor clergymen. charlotte eliott

Charlotte wanted to have some little part but was hindered by her illness. Many days she was unable to rise from her bed.  As she pondered how she could help the cause, Charlotte decided to write a poem relevant to others who were physically limited. She remembered the words of a great preacher, Caesar Malton, who had talked to her fourteen years before. He had told her to “Come to Jesus, just as you are”.

Sitting down to her task, Charlotte penned these famous words…

Just as I am, without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that thou biddest me come to Thee

O  Lamb of God, I come. I come.

The poem was published without Charlotte’s name and was handed to her one day in leaflet form by her doctor, who did not realize that she was its author. Tears streamed down her face as she read the six verses and was told that copies of her poem were being sold and the money given to St. Mary’s Hall.

Shocked and humbled, Miss Elliott then realized that she had at last made a significant contribution to the building of the school, and in way she had scarcely imagined possible.

Charlotte’s words continue to bless people the world over today, and her story gives hope for those who think they are too weak, too young, too old, too small or too broken to make a difference. God doesn’t need me to have it together in order to accomplish His will. He doesn’t need me to be Miss Perfect Christian before He can use me.  He really doesn’t even need me to be healthy. He just wants me to be willing.

“Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.” ~Barton

And by the way, I’m feeling much better today.

just as i am

What about you? Have you ever fallen into the What Ifs? What did God use to turn your fears around?