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.”










Summertime, and the livin’ is…..

I think we get it wrong when we make all of our fresh plans at the New Year. January is cold and uninspiring. No wonder we never actually stick with any of those resolutions.

But Summer, ah summer. Summer inspires. Summer invites. Summer compels.


F. Scott Fitgerald said it best in The Great Gatsby, “I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

So if summer is a time of beginnings, or at least an opportunity for them, how many people can admit with me that you’ve let summers slip away from you in the past. It’s like you have all these plans; to relax, to read, to learn to play the ukelele, and then BOOM it’s September and you never really relaxed, you started 3 books but didn’t finish any of them, and as for the uke? Well, what you mostly have is excuses.   Those, and a really dusty instrument.

So before us lies this opportunity. This warm, sun glazed chance to make something new or to make something MORE.  As you meditate on that and before you read more listen to this little piece of summer.




Duly inspired, I hope.

It’s now time to make your summer plans.   So what can lessons from a musical life plus the Word of God teach us about setting and keeping our summer plans? Here are three ‘To-Dos’ that’ll have you looking back over the summer with this Cheshire-cat grin come September.


1.  Write them down

In order to bullet proof your plans you need to write them down. Why? Well, the best advice-giver of all time, God himself, said writing it would make it easy to run with it.

Check this out, “The Lord answered me, ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” Why is writing it down so important? Because it will help clarify what you want to get done. It will help you START. Many times we accomplish very little because we do not have a clear focus.

  1. Get accountable

In the music world we have private teachers. On a weekly basis we are held accountable for what we’re supposed to be learning. When it comes to our spiritual and emotional life, we are much more likely to go it alone, making these goals for ourselves without anyone to ask us, “How’s it going?” or God forbid, “Did you pray today?” Whatever the goal, finding an accountability partner is key to your success. Trust me when I say accountability will not only keep you engaged, it will accelerate your performance.

  1. Don’t overplan

According to Forbes, “Many people…. make large bucket lists or attempt extreme makeovers, whether personal or professional.That’s a nice aspiration, experts say—but the average person has so many competing priorities that this type of approach is doomed to failure. Essentially, shooting for the moon can be so psychologically daunting, you end up failing to launch in the first place.”

So in the spirit of accountability and simplicity, I am picking 3 goals for this summer and I am encouraging you to do the same.  In line with this blog they are either musical or spiritual (or both). I have selected an accountability partner for each one.  If you care to read them you can find them below.  If you don’t care what I’m up to, skip that and just jump to the last paragraph.

  1. I am going to spend quality time with my spiritual mentor, an awesome woman of God in her 70’s. I’m going to ask her to talk to me on the phone weekly throughout the summer. (I hope she says yes!) For these conversations I am going to prepare questions so I can glean as much as possible from her wisdom and understanding.
  2. I’m getting real with my piano skills. It’s time to up my game specifically for church music. This will look like 20 mins a day 4 days a week.  That’s only a total of 80 minutes per week!  If I can’t do that, I should be fired from life!
  3. I am memorizing 1 bible verse per week.  My plan is to write it down on the chalk board in my kitchen and everyday erase a word.  My accountability partner for this one is my long-suffering husband.  What he doesn’t know is he’s about to get hoodwinked into memorizing with me.

So, this is me throwing down the gauntlet. It’s summer (almost). Time to begin anew, not because it’s a new year, but because it’s a fresh moment. Take this opportunity to seize these short months to propel yourself forward in your life goals and in your spiritual walk. And if you are bold enough, share them here with us.

Let’s make this a summer where the livin’ is more than easy.  Let’s make it a summer where the livin’ counts.






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.

Fanfare for a Common Woman

fan·fare  (fanfâr)    A spectacular public display

I once wrote a lesson on the musical masterpiece ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, by Aaron Copland for a curriculum guide published by the New York Philharmonic.  If you’ve never heard it, take a moment to listen to it here.  In the lesson, students learn that composers are often inspired by things in the world around them.

For example, Britten’s ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra‘ was inspired by a movie project to educate children about the orchestra. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 was inspired by nature.  Ravel’s Bolero was inspired by Spanish dance.

Fanfare for the Common Man is a majestic piece inspired by common, everyday heroes.  I don’t know about you, but I find these kinds of heroes far more interesting than the comic book kind.

In the following paragraphs allow me to introduce you to an incredibly humble heroine who never won an award or received any accolades.  This is my Fanfare (though a verbal one) for a common woman.


Myrtle and Carlie Horn

Her little brown hands had sunspots from decades spent hunched over the earth tending her garden.  Fresh cucumbers, carrots, and speckled eggs collected from the chicken coop littered her kitchen counter.  She knew how to get two crops of green beans in during one summer and spent a mere $7 a week on groceries.  She didn’t have much, so she gave away the vegetables that she canned to her friends.  Her cooking was laden with unhealthy amounts of lard and salt, but it was worth every caloric bite.  People said she could accurately predict the sex of your baby by how you were carrying it and as far as I know she was only wrong one time.  (That’s how I ended up with the name Misty- thanks a lot Grandma!)  Anytime my granddad drove her anywhere she was pressed right up next to him in the car, even after being married for 60 years.  Quilting was a part of her daily routine, even though her joints ached.  Evening hours were often spent sewing patches of fabric from dresses her daughters wore as children into heirlooms to pass down to us.   She loved her nine kids boundlessly and was especially protective of her boys.  Her girls had been raised to be like her and because of it she never seemed to worry as much about them.

Towards the end of her life, my uncle and aunt moved in with her to help with her care.  One night, my cousin heard her praying while he was there visiting.  “God, I’m not going to be here much longer and I don’t want any of my family to be lost.  I am a little senile and I can’t even remember all their names. Oh Lord,” she wept, “have mercy on their souls!”  And then one-by-one she cried out each name.  “On my son Tim- have mercy Lord.  On my granddaughter Misty- have mercy Lord.  On my great-granddaughter Kayla- have mercy Lord.”  And on and on she went.  And when she would stumble and forget a name she would beg the Lord to have mercy on the people she forgot.  These prayers seemed to be heaved from deep inside her and the passion behind them was heart wrenching.  My cousin left the house and went out on the car port where his mom was sitting.  “Grandma sounds so sad,” he said.  “I hate to hear her pray like that.”

“She prays like that every night,” said his mother.

My little grandmother passed away unexpectedly early that summer.  She was perfectly healthy one day and took a bad fall the next.  Her living will insisted that we allow her to die peacefully at home, so we spent those last few days gathered around her hospital bed in the living room.  As we sang hymns about going home she tried to raise her hands up in the air to worship.  She didn’t have strength to keep them up, so we held them up for her.

Occasionally in those final days she would have flashes of absolute lucidity.  One of those moments happened with my Aunt Irene who was in desperate need of a life-saving kidney transplant. My little grandma looked up at her oldest daughter from her bed and said, “Once I get there I’m just gonna have to ask God to bring someone home in an accident that is a perfect match for you so you can get your kidney.”  We all chuckled at the cheeky comment, thrilled at this burst of energy and coherence.

She passed that night amid prayers and gentle singing, quietly surrounded by her five daughters.  Her last words were, “Jesus, help me cross over.”  At the service, her pastor summed up her life like this,  “This is a woman who talked with God.”

As I sat there reflecting on this legacy of prayer I couldn’t help but wonder about what will happen when her generation dies out entirely?  We are covered by their prayers, but unless someone takes up the mantle for our children and our children’s children crying, “Lord, have mercy,” where will they be?  The burden that she felt for our family was as real to her as any physical need. Do we feel the burden for our loved ones as deeply? Do we cry out their names with such fervor?

And there is evidence that my little grandma had the ear of God and all of these prayers were not in vain.  A few short weeks after her passing, that perfect kidney came to my Aunt in exactly the way she had predicted.

Myrtle Horn.  She was an uncommon woman indeed.  In James 4:10 the Bible says it this way:  “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”  She may not have earned any accolades here, but we could almost hear the applause of heaven as this quiet, simple, praying woman crossed over.  May we all leave such a lasting legacy.

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