Monday, July 21, 2014


It was the summer between 9th and 10th grade, and I was sitting in orchestra rehearsal midway through the month-long summer music academy at Pensacola Christian College. I’d been playing violin for a few years, but this was the first time I was in the world of soundproof practice rooms, sectionals, and several hours of practice a day. It was challenging, but I loved it.

We were working on Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italian (A 15 ½ minute song! Talk about serious musicianship!), and the trombones were in trouble. There’s a part in the song where they have a tricky rhythm. Triplet 1, rest, triplet 1. If you sang it it would go something like “di-di-di-da {pause} di-di-di-da.” It starts at the end of the measure too, which is typically harder for young musicians because you have to count the rests before jumping into your notes.

It’s a critical rhythm at that point in the song, because it sets the tone and tempo for that section, and everyone else’s part layers on top of it.

And the trombones just couldn’t get it.

After trying everything in the book, from one method of counting to another, playing super slow, and trying over and over again to get it right, it still just wasn’t happening. In fact, I think it was getting worse. Because by this point, the poor trombones aren’t just frustrated and mentally tired, they’re also embarrassed because the rest of the orchestra is there just waiting and witnessing their struggle.

Then our conductor said something I’ll never forget. He was a short, Einstein-haired, big-nosed, elderly sort of guy. But he was diminutive in appearance only until he picked up a baton. Then he transformed to have this quiet assurance that brooked no contradiction. If he said it, that’s the way it was. He was picky, but he was right. And what made him special was he was able to communicate all of that with a sense of humor. 

Anyway, he rapped his baton on his stand and said, “You need to sniff.”

Everyone looked at him like he was a bit crazy. But our incredulity didn’t faze him in the slightest, “You need to sniff. Di-di-di-da {sniff} di-di-di-da. Beethoven would sniff. You need to sniff. Try it.”

Memory is a funny thing. I know it’s a Tchaikovsky piece, but I swear our conductor said Beethoven would sniff. Maybe he was meeting us halfway, knowing Beethoven would stand out in our minds.

So we did. First he just had the trombones do it, singing the rhythm out in time.
Di-di-di-da {sniff} di-di-di-da. Their sniffs were a little tentative so he had everyone join in. Di-di-di-da {sniff} di-di-di-da. After a few repetitions (and more than a few giggles), we got over the craziness of the whole idea and really committed to the sniff. And once we did, that tricky rhythm came together like magic.

It was amazing, and I’ll never forget it.

That’s what I think scripture means when it says Jesus spoke with authority. The phrase “with authority” was a known term in the rabbinical teaching structure. It basically meant that people recognized Jesus had enough insight to look at a familiar thing in a fresh way. But a little more than that because anyone can have a crazy opinion, but if you spoke “with authority” then people actually respected your point of view.

When I read, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority!” (Mark 1:27) I imagine the crowd feeling the same sense of wonder we did in the orchestra. After all, who in their right mind would tell a trombone section to sniff? You won’t find that anywhere in an exercise book. But he did, and “Beethoven would sniff” changed everything for us that summer. It took a tricky rhythm and made it attainable. Frustration gave way to comprehension and we went on to play the piece with confidence and unity. And I think that’s just what Jesus does with God’s law. Time after time, he offers a new insight that suddenly makes the convoluted very simple.

If you want to take a listen, the infamous rhythm is at 0:52. I dare you not to sniff. But make sure you mean it if you do.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


The following conversation took place in one of the early episodes of MasterChef this season:

Joe - Mystery Box, Season 5. We start with desserts. What's the biggest mistake we see with mystery boxes like this one?
Gordan - It's one of overcomplication.
Graham - As you get more and more experienced as a cook or a chef, it's all about putting less on the plate. I think here you're going to see people try to add every single thing possible, and we all know that just muddles it.

"You're going to see people try to add every single thing possible, and we all know that just muddles it."

Ouch.  How often do I (do we) do just that?  Try to throw every trick we have, whether it's to impress, to please, or to measure up?

But when we do that, the painting we're trying to compose with our programs or with our lives just ends up looking like the brown, soupy, finger-painted masterpiece of a four-year-old artist.  You know the kind. It might be beautiful to the imagination, but the reality is just a bit of a mess. As Harry Potter observed in the Half-Blood Prince: "Bangs and smoke are more often the sign of ineptitude rather than expertise."

"As you get more and more's all about putting less on the plate."

Be intentional.  Keep it simple.  Put less on your plate.

It will be less muddled.

And ultimately, more delicious.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Silver. Refuge. All caught up.

Favorite Proverbs: #27 Silver is the New Gray

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31

What words of wisdom would you offer anyone celebrating a milestone birthday this year?

I believe this thought is borrowed from a toast, but I've always found it both encouraging and wise:  To look forward with pleasure, and backward without remorse.

Favorite Proverbs: #26 Tower of Power

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10

Liz suggested we can speak His name, open His Word, and seek His Church. How else might we run into His strong tower?

Change direction.  I think of a refuge and I think of being safe behind those strong walls.  One of the most humbling and beautiful parts growing and maturing is that my eyes are constantly being open to a better way. It's humbling to realize when I'm out of bounds.  Those boundaries aren't there to be restricting.  They're there to be protective.  (Not that God's protection is limited to a finite space of course.)  But when my eyes are opened to a new aspect of that better way and I find that I've been wandering in the woods instead of the tower grounds, the best thing I can do is change direction.  The quote the proverb:  the righteous run to it and are safe.

And with that, for the first time in a long while, I'm all caught up!  (A nice way to celebrate the halfway point of this journey through Proverbs.) Now I can focus on finishing up some other posts that have been rattling around in my head for a bit.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Favorite Proverbs: #28 How Low Can We Go?

Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud. Proverbs 16:19

If this devotion has convicted you to do more for those in need, how do you plan to get started? If you are already doing and giving in a sacrificial way, what has the Lord taught you in the process?

"Travel light."  This is an idea planted into my heart years ago by a very wise birthday card.  Ever since then, that idea has taken root and grown strong.  To me, traveling light isn't just about letting go of worry and regret.  It's also grown to be about being intentional about the things I decide to acquire and keep.  Even more, it's about not filling my time or my budget to capacity.  Why?  To be able to be generous.  It's been a learning journey, but in the process the thing I've learned the most is this (and it's going to sound cliche): I can't out-give God.  Mostly because as I pour out, he pours right back in.  Not always in the same way (it's not like he's running a divine reimbursement service), but always in a way that provides a blessing.

It helps that I belong to a church family that values giving.  My senior pastor often mentions the verse that talks about leaving the edges of fields for the needy (Leviticus 19:9-10).  Purposefully setting aside a part of my proverbial field has been life-changing.  Because what begins as a sacrifice then becomes a budget.

The other big lesson I've learned:  I don't need to out-give God (or anybody else). Once I started seeing the needs of the world, I felt like I started seeing them all.  And there's a lot.  How in the world could my little bit make any sort of real difference?  But God has shown me time and time again that it's not about an amount, it's about my heart.  Jesus famously took a sack lunch and fed a multitude.  God still does that today.  He doesn't want me to give my whole field, but he does want me to be a good steward and to be obedient with my edges.

Being lowly, living humbly...traveling light. So I can give him all my edges, and in his hands, those edges can change the world.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hidden Motives

Favorite Proverbs: #29 Hidden Motives

A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart. Proverbs 21:2

What has the Lord been teaching you this week?

One of the great things about growing up in church is having a treasury of verses set to song that bubble up to the surface of my mind when I need them most. This one has been on repeat in my mind lately:

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way.  Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down.  For the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.  Psalm 37:23

What a great promise and reminder right?  And I honestly think that delight goes both ways:  God delights and sings over us, and when we are in the middle of what he's doing, we're delighting in him.

The best part is, perfection is not required.  We stumble, we hiccup, we sometimes hobble through, but this verse says that wobbles or falls or missed opportunities are not a disqualification.  No matter how bad/guilty/disappointed we might feel, we are not cast down, thrown out, or given up on. The Lord upholds us with his righteous right hand.

More than I would like to admit, I struggle with feelings of guilt and underachievement.  (Especially when I'm feeling particularly fallible, or simply...uninteresting.) But with that verse on musical repeat, his still small voice has been faithfully reminding me that his delight isn't contingent on my successes or achievements.  He loves me just as I am.  Not for what I've done or haven't done.  Not for my past victories, or in spite of my past failures.  He just loves me.  More than that.  He delights in this journey we are sharing together.

Remembering that restores my joy too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Smart Money

Favorite Proverbs: #30 Smart Money

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver! Proverbs 16:16

The CEV translation sums up this verse, “It’s much better to be wise and sensible than to be rich.” How might you convince a teenager of that truth?

There's probably nothing more convincing that someone faithfully walking out their own convictions.  The polar opposite of "Do as I say, not as I do."  Do as I do, because life is better this way.  How do I treat gold and silver?  What priority to I place on wisdom and insight?  The teenagers in my life will see that...and take note.

That being said, it wasn't until I traveled overseas that I fully understood just how rich our culture is in stuff while at the same time being so very poor in spirit. And I will never forget traveling to a small coastal town in Mississippi to help with the rebuilding effort the year after Katrina completely devastated the Golf region. Some of those people had lost everything, but not their spirit...and their stories were amazing. For that reason, I think encouraging teenagers to volunteer and serve (either here or abroad) is a great way to reveal the truth of this verse.  Sometimes you just can't know things until your perspective has been changed.

“If only people would realize that moral principles are like measles...They have to be caught. And only the people who've got them can pass on the contagion.” ~ Aldous Huxley

Monday, July 7, 2014

Heavy Lifting

Favorite Proverbs: #31 Heavy Lifting

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Proverbs 12:25

If you’re not okay right now, could you tell someone you trust?
If someone around you isn’t okay, what kind word could you offer them today?

There's no good way to get a grip on a runaway train of anxious thoughts.  Maybe that's what makes them so heavy on the heart.  Like a oversized load of laundry you're trying to carry in one trip to the washer, it's a wiley burden.  Just when you think you have a precarious hold, you look down only to discover you've missed an errant sock, and if you bend down to pick it up, you somehow drop another one from the towering pile.  It can be a comedy of errors if your mood is right...or the straw that breaks your fragile facade into a million pieces.  Yes, the laundry is dirty. You know that, and you're trying to take it to the right place to fix that.  If only you could get there.

How precious are the words of a friend.  A friend's encouraging words can enter into shattered mess of a pile gone terribly wrong and knock that runaway train right from its tracks.  A kind word can be an extra hand that picks up the errant sock, allowing you to keep your tenuous grip on the way to the washer.  A kind word can change the soundtrack and somehow make a tragic moment into a comedic one.  (Have you ever had a friend rescue you from frustration and tears by dissolving you into a pile of giggles?  I have.  It's the best kind of rescue.)

I'm definitely blessed to have friends I can reach out to when I'm struggling.  The hardest part is admitting that I need the help.  The thought of my friend's hands on my errant socks?  It's embarrassing.  But a friend won't air that laundry, they'll help you carry it to the washer.  And the thing is, I know I wouldn't be bothered in the least if the tables were turned.  It's a sock.  There's nothing to be ashamed about.  That's just life.  Why is it so much easier to give help than receive it? (Especially when anxiety is involved.)

My prayer is to have the bravery to be transparent with those who have my trust, and to have ears to hear and eyes to see when someone might need a hand themselves.  Not to carry the whole load. There's someone whose hands are big enough for that.  Just to pick up a sock or two on the way.