Lies We Believe

Living; genuinely living is an act of courage. I am not talking about going through the motions of life; the getting up, the brushing of the teeth, the eating three meals a day, the watching of TV, the playing of games online, the tweeting every 3 hours. That, my friends is just surviving. I’m talking about REAL living.

YodaReal living involves risk. Real living involves butterflies. Real living involves… (gulp) failure. As John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death….. and saddling up anyway.”

Musicians know this well. A teacher of mine from Juilliard who played first horn in a major orchestra for 30 years often says that being a brass player (especially a principal) requires consistent acts of courage. With this instrument there is nowhere to hide. You only, as Yoda said so well, “Do or Do not; there is no try.”


If you think I exaggerate, just listen to the first 2 minutes of Mahler 1 and imagine yourself in the seat of that first trumpeter.  (Start at :53 seconds in)

If you’re like me, you want to live your life to the fullest.  You want to achieve all that God has for you.  You don’t want any of your own self-imposed limitations to squelch your story or to limit your impact.  So in order to get there, first we need to get honest about the lies that we believe, knowing that “only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”   Thank you T.S. Eliott.

So here are a few common lies we believe.  Check them out and see if they ring a bell.

LIE #1:  Your calling will be in your comfort zone.

I was sitting with a young person who feels the call of God on their lives the other day and he began to thoughtfully share with me how he had systematically determined what his calling wasn’t.   It couldn’t be preaching, he said, because that just wasn’t him.  And it couldn’t be worship leading because that required a lot of energy and he’s just not an energetic person.  On and on he went through the list of ministries that were not for him because…..  they weren’t in the comfort zone.

Newsflash, peeps.  NOTHING worthwhile is comfortable.  Nothing worthwhile is going to feel in the pocket.  And nothing that God asks us to do will be able to be accomplished without walking into it in faith and continuing on in faith.  Why do you think the Bible gives us that great verse, “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.”  That’s not just for those calamities that come upon you.  That verse is for the situations that you put yourself into out of obedience to God.  All you gotta do is look at some of those folks in the bible who were called and see how NOT in the comfort zone their ministries were.  The poster child has got to be Moses who was called to speak for Israel and he was a stutterer.  Talk about living life out of the comfort zone, but look how effective he was!

LIE #2:    Fear is your enemy.

Would you believe me if I told you fear is not the enemy?  Fear, instead, can be an incredible friend.  Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, not absence of fear.”

Allow me to give you a musical example.  The French Horn is this terrible instrument where without meaning to you can accidentally play pretty much every note on the instrument without touching a button.  Just by tightening or loosening your lips you can end up on all sorts of notes.  I work every day with my students on starting pieces, because as I like to say, “You only get one chance to get the first note right.”  We do something called the “first note challenge” in each lesson and they practice setting up, putting the horn to their face, counting off and then playing that first note perfectly.

Every week in these lessons, as I quiz them, I see these students muster up their courage and start those first notes. Sometimes they hit them, sometimes they miss them, but as they have the courage to practice starting over and over they get better at fighting through the fear of failure.

As I watch them go through this each week, I see a parallel to our human experience.  It’s scary to start something new. Especially when messing up is an inevitable part of that process.

LIE #3:  You will accomplish plenty without courage.

Muhammed Ali said it this way, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Wow, that’s plain.  You might say to yourself, ‘I am no Mohammed Ali.’  You may look around and see others living acts of courage, and say, “I’m just not bold like that, “ or, “that’s just not me.”  But hear this.  Not only will a lack of courage keep you from accomplishing the things your heart desires, but it is also terribly displeasing to God.  Did you know that?  Check out this less-than-popular passage:  “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Wow, to God being cowardly is as detestable as all those other things?  Whoa, I don’t know about you, but I need to work on my courage!

I will end with one final story.  One of my youngest students played her first piece on a recital this week.  She came to her lesson and within the first measure of a piece that she had been working on for weeks missed two notes and burst into tears.  I then found out from her mom that she had been psyching herself out all week because she was scared to play in front of all those people.

photo-6After calming her down and getting her some tissues, I began to reveal something to her.  “Grace, I get scared too!”  Her sixth grade eyebrows raised, “Not you,” she said incredulously, “You’re so good!”  I then explained to her that the fear never goes away, but that seasoned musicians learn to compensate for it, plan for it, and combat it.  One of the ways we do that is by not expecting perfection.  Sounds simple, but many of us are so afraid of failing that we never try.

So here’s the little formula that I learned at Juilliard that I shared with her, and I will share with you in closing.

At Juilliard my teacher asked me, “On a scale of 1-10 how do you expect to perform in this audition?”  I said, in all honesty, “I expect myself to be a 10.”  He then said, “Rate your preparation for this audition from 1-10.”  I had to honestly give myself a 7.  He then explained to me that because an audition is a pressure situation, you should always prepare yourself mentally to play 1 level lower than you prepared.  So if you prepare a 7, expect a 6 not a 10.

This may sound so simple to you, but this was a major epiphany for me.  I always had such high expectations of myself even when I had not done the work.

So how does this relate to our spiritual walk?  Don’t psych yourself out of doing what you are here for.  Prepare diligently, then don’t expect yourself to go above and beyond the work you have done.  God will take care of that part.  You just put it out there and let it go.  And as you do, remember that you are not alone. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”










D is for…..

D is for discipline.


It’s also for difficult.

difficult people

D is also for Doohicky, but that’s not what this post is about.


I think we’ve all struggled at times with the motivation to get to the gym, get into the prayer closet, or get to that practice room.  So how do we push ourselves to be faithful and disciplined in these activities when the payoff is so hard to assess?  How do we remain faithful when the progress seems interminably slow?  Here are some tips that work both in our musical & our spiritual lives.

  1. Remove distractions


I don’t know about you, but as soon as it’s time to hunker down and get something done I start to feel the need to clean, or check facebook, or fold that laundry that’s been laying on the guest bed unfolded for two days.  In the moment when it’s really time to practice or talk with God I can find myriad viable excuses for other “more pressing” things that need to be accomplished.

How do I tackle this?  I have create in my home two rooms that have no other purpose.  I call ’em the P rooms.  One is for practicing.  One is for prayer.  Everything in those spaces support the endeavor.  Because those spaces are not used for other activities there are no TVs, computers, telephones, or laundry baskets to distract.  These uncluttered spaces are an outward representation of the clarity of mind that comes when I spent time there.  I am there for one purpose and none other.  This allows me to close the door and give my all, unfettered by the lingering dust bunnies under the ottoman.

2.  Look for cracks of light along the way

shaft of light

Things that require discipline are slow-going.  When I think of the hours in my life that I have spent playing long tones and scales, it’s honestly a little mind numbing.  We’ve all heard that fake law of 10,000 hours (do anything for 10,000 hours and you’ll be an expert), but there’s more than a modicum of truth to that.  So how do we stay on task for as long as it takes to actually get somewhere?

Along the way, we must celebrate every small victory.  The Apostle Paul said it this way, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”  People, we are awful at this.  We are so quick to criticize and judge ourselves; picking apart the three things we did horribly in the midst of the 30 things we are finally getting right.  Notice the small victories, the cracks of light, the moments that herald something more is on the way!  As Alex Haley said, “Find the good and praise it,” not only in others, but in yourself.

3.  Have a goal.

smart goal setting conceptYogi Berra once said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

When it comes to horn playing it’s easier since many of those goals are set up by external forces. I have this concert coming up, or that event I’m performing for or this audition which has these specific requirements.  With our spiritual walk it’s different.  Much more personal.  And it sounds odd to say “I have spiritual goals.”  But goals are key.  Tony Robbins said, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”

So looking now at your spiritual life, what isn’t there that you’d like to be there?

A few years ago I hadn’t read through the bible once EVER, and now because of a spiritual goal I set (and the Daily Audio Bible) I am in the midst of my 4th time through the word.  And my faith is transforming daily because of it.

A few years ago, I had NO prayer life.  Zero.  None.  I’d lay down at night and fall asleep while repenting AGAIN for the same sins I’d repented for the day before.  That was the extent of my relationship with God.  So my goal?  To pray daily.  I can tell you that since I set that goal there have been birthdays where I looked back over the year and could say honestly, this was a year marked by prayer.

As of late, I have a new spiritual goal.  It is to be missional daily.  Everyday in some small way I want to reach out to someone as Christ would, giving in some small way what I can.  Just one selfless act, every day.  Somedays that looks like a simple encouraging text message.  Somedays it’s much bigger than that.

So what’s your spiritual goal this year?  What’s the thing you are marching towards with fervor?

Let me close with this.  I teach about 15 horn students weekly.  Each time they see me, I assign them etudes, solos, exercises, etc.  Yes, we work hard in the lesson but the real work takes place between sessions.  If they are not disciplined during the week, it shows when they come and we are unable to accomplish much.  If they have worked incredibly hard, their pace accelerates and they leave other, less motivated students in the dust.

Why is it that we assume that we can get a once-a-week spiritual dose on Sundays and that it will be enough to sustain us?  We must instead view those moments of coming into God’s house as the litmus test which reminds us to keep pursuing Him, and the motivating kick-in-the-pants which encourages us to keep our spiritual disciplines intact.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, it’s that time spent everyday in prayer, the talking and the listening to God, and time spent in study (the pursuit of actually knowing the whole God through his word) that turn us over time into spiritual giants.  These are not sexy activities.  Our nature as humans doesn’t give us an appetite for such things.  But the word says that God can GIVE us a spirit of self-discipline.

So, let’s start today by setting a simple spiritual goal- one is all you need. Let’s set ourselves up for success by creating a space (both mentally and physically) to accomplish what we’ve set out to do.  Wouldn’t it be phenomenal if you could look back one year from now and see a whole year marked by the spiritual discipline that you decided upon and implemented today?

It’s Not About Me

Maybe I’m the only one, but I’ve struggled my whole life to grasp that the universe doesn’t revolve around me.  Perhaps it is because every great movie seems to have an epic French horn solo, and because that’s my instrument I too felt like my life was epic.  I could almost hear my own movie soundtrack playing as I walked the streets of New York, living my seemingly grandiose life.

I mean, in theory I understand that I’m this infinitesimally small being living on a sphere orbiting a sun in a galaxy which is one of many galaxies, but the struggle of my self-involvedness happens in day-to-day life.  In those small moments, I’m really guilty of making it all about me.  And in the end, NEWSFLASH, it’s not.  I guess I’m in good company, since God had to say to Job, “Where were you when I Iaid the earth’s foundations?”  Clearly, we all have a propensity to lose perspective.

The more I get that, the more useful I find myself becoming.  The more I get that, the more selfless I find my actions.  The more I get that, the less offense I take when others do their thing.  So how do we cultivate a lifestyle that’s not all about us when our nature is to walk through life hearing our epic soundtrack and its swooping melodies?  Here are some tips.

1.  Give Your Day Away

GiveI’m sure your thinking, ‘What?  Give my day away?  I have to work, raise my kids, study…. I already feel like I’m giving it away and there’s nothing left for me.’  Trust me, before we give our day to anything, we need to first present it as an offering to the Father.  The thing I have found is that when I do this, I actually end up laying down the anxieties, the stresses, the concerns, the selfishness, and the fears.  In their place I pick up peace, joy, long suffering, gentleness, kindness, meekness and goodness.  I also seem to pick up this radar that helps me see the heavy load that someone else is silently carrying.  This radar helps me find opportunities to love, lift up, encourage and give.  It’s like that time in the morning is a time of refreshing, refilling and drinking deep from the fount of life.  Then, as the day pulls at me from all sides I am drawing from a deep reservoir within and I am able to meet whatever comes.

2.  Commit Yourself

commitWe are so guilty of thinking only of ourselves when faced with things that require commitment.  We’d rather not commit to being in the choir because sometimes we like our Sundays to ourselves.  We’d rather not commit to leading a small group because we aren’t that much of a people person.  We’d rather not join that club because then we’ll have to pay dues.  Here’s the thing.  When we start to consider that just our presence there each Sunday could encourage someone, that’s not pride.  That’s not making it all about you.  That, my friends, is accepting responsibility.  When we realize that committing to that weekly prayer meeting not only lifts you (because it increases your relationship with God), but it also encourages the others that pray because they see they are not alone, we begin to see a purpose in being a part of the bigger picture.  Servanthood asks first, what can I do for my God and for my fellowman, not what do I feel like doing today?

If you are like me, you will be more faithful if you commit to things.  Make vows.  Tell others.  Be accountable.  Commit yourself.  The radical, almost instantaneous growth you will see in your spiritual walk will astound you.

3. Pick Three People

pick 3What if all of us just found three.  Three disenfranchised.  Three hurting.  Three oddballs that are kind of odd like we are odd.  And I’m not talking about family here (though I know we all have lots of oddballs in our families).  I’m talking about three people in your life that are near you right now.  What if we committed to pray for them daily, reach out to them, love them unconditionally, and find little ways to pour into their lives selflessly.   What if we eventually even told them what they were to us, how we weren’t going to let them go, how we are praying for them daily, how they are significant to someone.  I think that if we did this, we could begin to change the world.  Here’s the thing though.  We’ve gotta love those three expecting nothing back.  We’ve gotta pray for those 3 relentlessly no matter whether we see quick answers or not.

Christ gave himself.  So if we are to be Christians – AKA Christ-like- we too must give ourselves.  First to him and then to others.  To me, this means laying down myself, my dreams and my plans at the foot of the cross daily.  It also means that I am asking God to change my worldview from one that sees everything through a Misty-lens to one that sees through a God-lens.  Every time we catch ourselves feeling put-upon or upset by a situation, let’s stop, look up and ask, “Is this really about me, or is there some larger picture here that I am failing to see?”  If we get in this habit, he is sure to adjust our vision and get our eyes on the things that matter and off of ourselves.

Stop it now Christians! That’s Taboo.

Classical musicians know there are certain things that you JUST DON’T DO.  You don’t look directly at someone in your section while they are playing a solo.  You don’t show up right on time.  Right on time is late.  You don’t wave to your Aunt Mille during the concert even if this is the first time she’s ever seen you in a tuxedo.  That kind of thing honestly just ruins the mood for everyone there (except your Aunt Mille).

In all seriousness, some of these no-no’s are universal rules that should be abided by, not only by musicians, but by the church.

So allow me to introduce you to 5 “musician taboos” that anyone who calls herself a follower of Christ might want to consider adopting.

  1. Don’t Play Someone else’s part

OK, so you didn’t get first chair the last time auditions came around.  And you think maybe you are better than the guy that won.  Guess what?  He won, you didn’t.  So don’t go playing his big solo part while you are warming up with him in earshot.  It just makes you look petty (and jealous).

Church-goers can be quick to despise their role.  But all roles are necessary for the church to function as it was meant.  Check this out, ‘So the body is not one part but many. If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body…..God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.’

So just because we might be smarter or more talented than those above us in the Lord, let’s hold back on the judgement.  So what’s our role?   It’s pretty simple.  We’ve gotta suck it up and play the part we’ve been assigned to the best of our abilities.

2.   Don’t talk back to the Maestro

When the conductor (who’s usually tall, old and German) tells you how to play your part, you don’t argue.  You don’t explain why your interpretation is better.  You don’t ask for a private meeting after rehearsal.  You just nod and do what he is asking of you to the best of your ability.  Even someone who raises their hands to ask one too many questions is likely on the road to getting booted.

So, when the pastor (who is usually old, slightly rotund, and spits a lot) tells you how to do X, Y or Z, don’t argue.  Don’t explain why your viewpoint is right.   Don’t explain why you like this other leader’s way of thinking about this or that better than his.  God ordains authority and our inability to submit to those God has appointed over us reflects our inability to submit to God himself.

3.   Don’t suddenly totally reinterpret Beethoven (or the Bible)

Beethoven is awesome.  His music is simple, yet profound.  He was a master at giving us exactly what we need, right on that page of music to tell us what he meant.  Orchestras have been interpreting his music for centuries, and the majority have settled on a reasonable understanding of “Beethoven style”.  When someone goes out in left field and starts messing with that style, it simply doesn’t work.  It’s just not true to what was written.  It’s just not Beethoven.

Same with the bible.  This thing has been around a long time.  Masterful minds have spent lifetimes plumbing the depths of its wisdom.  Any new interpretation of scripture which takes things in a totally new direction should be considered highly suspect.   God doesn’t suddenly give a revelation to some guy now that he refused to give 200 or 300 years ago.  If God thinks it’s that important, it’s been revealed to not just someone, but many trustworthy someones over the course of history.

4.  Don’t be a know-it-all

Musicians need each other to make music.  I mean, there are a handful in the whole world who wander around making a living as solo acts, but they are few and far between. Being successful in music is as much about how easy you are to be around as it is about how well you play.  If you are constantly nitpicking every player near you, guess what?  Even if you are the next Yo-Yo Ma people won’t invite you back.  In order to make our best music, we need to be in an environment that invites our best and doesn’t require us to constantly rise above the negative energy and attitudes of others.  Music is challenging enough without nay-sayers and judgie-judgersons critiquing our every note.

It’s the same in our Christian walk.  We need comrades who encourage, exhort, and uplift.  We naturally run screaming from those who want to tisk-tisk us about skirt length, hair length, or wearing non-mixed fibers.  Don’t be THAT guy, ok?  I promise, when you learn to encourage, and take time to laugh and love you will find yourself suddenly surrounded by friends and helpers.  Remember the journey is way better with a friend.  Even Christ sent the disciples out 2 by 2.

5.  Don’t do the bare minimum

There are lots of menial jobs attached to being a musician.  Somebody’s got to put those music stands in place or restack those chairs.  Someone’s got to pick the music and organize it for everyone.  Somebody’s got to book the travel for that gig, or make sure there is an itinerary in place for all the musicians.  Great collaborators know that we add value not just by doing our “one job” well, but by being a team player who contributes in as many ways as possible.

As Christians, this is a great rule of thumb.  I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of wondering, ‘What’s the minimum amount of church-going, praying, and holiness that will get us to heaven?’  Here’s the thing.  When we go through our lives just doing the minimums we never get to the blissful stuff. We never experience the real power, the unspeakable joy, the full intimacy of relationship with God.  We just float along, missing the good stuff, hoping to avoid the bad stuff.  That’s no way to live.

And when we join a church in order to consume (consume relationships, consume sermons, consume worship) rather than contribute (by giving, praying, volunteering, and serving diligently), we actually become a weight rather than being one who helps to shoulder the load.  Imagine how different our churches would be (and how much more effective) if they were filled with individuals who instead of asking the church how it can serve them said, how can I serve my church?

I could go further, but these taboos are a good place to start.  Let’s get beyond the minimums, let’s encourage and exhort, and let’s know when to let the leader lead.  These “donts”  lead us to “do” the stuff that matters.

5 Life-changing Habits

1.  Follow a Master

Misty’s Juilliard horn professor, Jerome Ashby

Musicians know that in order to get to the top of our game we need a master teacher to show us the way. Every week we subject ourselves to their critiques and wisdom.  We deliberately become imitators of our teachers; breathing where they breath and sounding like they sound.

Two weeks ago, my husband came with me to hear one of my students play in a recital.  He looked at me while she played and whispered incredulously, “I hear you in her!”

Paul said multiple times in the scriptures, “Be followers of me, even as I follow Christ.”  Here, he uses the Greek “mimeomai” or “mimetes” which means “to mimic” or “imitate”. How much quicker would we grow spiritually if we became imitators of Godly men and women who know far more than us?  What would our lives look like even a year from now if we began to spend time weekly letting these everyday teachers pour into our lives?

2.  Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off and Do it Fast! 


The hardest moment in a musical performance is the instant right after you really mess up.  Sports psychologists know that athletes experience this same challenge.  In those moments just following that huge flub that EVERYONE heard, your mental dialogue can be pretty destructive. Your mind will say things like, “Just give up, you’ve already wrecked it, and what’s the use in continuing?”  Great musicians know that the best thing they can do in that moment is immediately FORGET what just happened by focusing all the attention on what is coming next.  As we hone in on the present and focus our energy on that next phrase, we find ourselves creating the music we were meant to make.

The brilliant writer Paul said it this way, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  That means when we aren’t perfect, we deliberately chose to forget and press forward.  It means we don’t give ourselves the luxury of stopping  for that ever-familiar and prolonged personal flogging that we are so adept at giving ourselves.  There’s no time for that.  We are in the middle of things.  Instead, we press on.

3.  Work in Small Increments

Hand Holding The Key To Success

It’s a lie that all great musicians practice 6 hours a day.  ‘But wait’, you say!  ‘We’ve all heard of the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a task for a total of around 10,000 hours.’

So if we aren’t practicing all day, how do we get there?

Allow me to put it this way.  Small chunks of time invested daily or every other day over a lifetime add up to great things.  In the life of a musician, we find ourselves practicing during commercials, warming up on our car-rides to the gig, and interspersing musical calisthenics between other necessities like folding laundry and cooking dinner.  It’s not glamorous, but it gets the job done.

In Galatians, the Bible says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  There are times when we just don’t feel like praying or  spending that time meditating on The Word and if anyone were to look at our crazy schedules, they would agree with us that we don’t have the time.   If we commit to doing it anyway, by finding and utilizing those in-between moments to their fullest effect, there are promises attached to our hard work.  Just take it in small increments, like great musicians do and see how the time adds up to something life changing.

4.  Have a Routine

 RoutineGreat musicians don’t practice long, we practice smart.  We carefully develop daily routines and stick to them religiously.  These routines keep the muscles agile, the reflexes honed, and the small motor skills necessary for high performance at-the-ready.  My routine lasts about 45 minutes a day.  It takes me from high to low, from loud to soft, from fast to slow and so on.  It is built to be demanding.   If I do it daily, I know that no matter what music is put in front of me and no matter what demands are placed on me this week, I can meet them.

The Bible says it this way, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…” We’ve all heard this verse taught before, but the whole point of this is to do the work prior to the challenging moment.  Wouldn’t this be better than finding ourselves in a mess and then rushing around trying to fashion a solution out of a toothpick and a piece of twine like MacGyver?  So what would a thorough daily routine look like in your spiritual walk?  What muscles need to be flexed everyday in order to meet the challenges that will inevitably come your way?

5.     Find Your Tribe


Music is an innately social endeavor.  When you make music together you challenge each other, encourage each other, laugh together, and struggle together.  When one person is having a hard day, the other musicians rally around and play even more fervently.  Let me tell you that after years of being a musician, there is something about making music together that is far more magical, far more interesting, and far more satisfying than doing it alone.  Great musicians make it a point to surround themselves with others and make opportunities to play together.  And musicians who quit often do because they don’t enjoy doing it alone and they haven’t found others to play with.

The Bible says it this way:  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”  We need spiritual friends so we can make of this life something artful, something beautiful, something profound.  We musicians often have to seek those other players out, so if you don’t have these spiritual peers in your life, go looking for them!  I guarantee you will find that companionship ups your game and enhances your enjoyment of the journey.

2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle

All rights reserved