It began with Thriller. That was the first time I heard a song and thought, “Whoa. I want to do that.” I was in third grade, so who knows what I really meant (beyond some lip-synching in the fourth grade talent show), but the desire to “do that” stuck with me for years.
After Michael Jackson came Courtney Love. The minute I saw the video for “Doll Parts,” I was smitten, for I had never seen a girl rock the guitar like she did. I wanted red lips, dresses, bleach. I wanted a guitar.
In high school, a friend and I formed a two-grrrl band. We wrote tortured songs, wore a lot of black and red and played shows in the garages and fields of our friends (this was Deming, after all). When a career counselor asked me what I wanted to be, I said, “In a band,” but I listed “tattoo artist” as a back-up plan. Either way, I assumed I’d live in a van for most of my adult life.
And then, at 17, Jesus got me. I mean, just like that, he got me – in a tear-soaked, over-amplified Easter Sunday service, he got me. My pride could not fathom that (and still can’t), but it happened. And since then he has never, ever let me go. His love has changed everything.
Of course, it changed my devotion to music. You see, music was my comfort; it was my identity. It was the dark cave I crawled into whenever I was sad. When I needed clarity, I wrote songs. When I needed rest, I listened to them.
If I wasn’t a musician, I was nothing. I was just, I don’t know, a girl.
But God wanted all of me, especially the part of me that once said, If I can’t bring my guitar to heaven, then I have no interest in going.
So God did what he does: he patiently led me to him, with a love that was sometimes stern and unyielding and sometimes gracious and kind. Here is how it happened:
One day, my right wrist began to ache. I noticed it first while playing bass in our church’s worship band. Then, I noticed it while playing guitar. Before long, my wrist ached while driving, typing or washing my hair. Finally, one night it ached so badly that I couldn’t sleep and I thought, Oh no. I can’t ignore this.
And then my left wrist began to ache.
I spent my senior year of high school wearing wrist braces on both hands, full time. I scheduled physical therapy appointments around classes and drama practice, and I iced each hand for an excruciating twenty minutes a night (which makes that labor simulation with the ice cube feel like a walk in the park, by the way).
I don’t remember if I was told to quit playing, honestly. I know that I was told to stop temporarily, but I couldn’t bear that: if I ever thought I could come back to it, I knew that I would continue to give music first place in my heart, and I would work toward playing again, not toward getting better.
And, if I wasn’t willing to do it, God would continue to clear things out of my heart himself.
So, I gave all of my music equipment away, everything but an acoustic guitar that I stashed in the back of a closet and couldn’t bear to look at. I let go of music as completely as I could, and I waited.
Eight or nine months passed. And then my physical therapist mentioned casually that I might consider playing for fifteen minutes or so every other day, just to see how my hands tolerated it.
To my surprise, that terrified me: what if I had learned nothing? What if I had gone through all of this only to turn back to music rather than to God? I didn’t rush home and joyfully whisk my guitar out of the closet, but instead tiptoed into my bedroom, where I sat on the floor in front of the closet and debated for hours whether or not to open the door.
I opened it. I don’t remember if I did it that day, but eventually, I opened the door. And over the course of the next few years, music inched back into my life, slowly and persistently. In the midst of all that, Mitch and I courted and married, and in the years that followed, he has helped me stay grounded (despite my brief taste of local stardom). With his encouragement, music has never again been an idol for me.
And oh, the wonderful things God has done since then! When I was 18, I couldn’t wash my own hair without pain. When I put my guitar away for good, it was because I wanted to be able to carry my own children around one day without fearing the toll it would take on my hands, arms and collarbone. I wanted to snuggle with my husband, chop vegetables, write letters and draw. I didn’t want to be made brittle by pain.
Five or six years ago, when I began to book shows in small coffee shops and bars, I did so timidly, because I worried that an hour long set would leave me aching for days. But imagine my joy and surprise when I woke day after day feeling, well, fine. For over two years, I played a few shows a month, and even with all of the practice required between shows, I felt fine. I couldn’t believe it, not quite.
And now, I carry my daughters around, no problem. Though I still wore wrist braces to bed right up until Lydia was born, I don’t anymore. Every so often, I get a twinge of pain, but it’s just enough to make me grateful for how often my wrists don’t hurt. (I mean, seriously, folks: I took up knitting.)
In his autobiography, Phil Vischer (creator of VeggieTales), quotes Richard Porter:
If God gives you a dream, and…then the dream dies, it may be that God wants to see what is more important to you–the dream or him. And once he’s seen that, you may get your dream back. Or you may not, and you may live the rest of your life without it. But that will be okay, because you’ll have God.
God took music away, but when he gave it back to me, he had cleaned out the space it had occupied in my heart and filled it with himself. Music became a form of worship, not an object of it.
These days, our house is a place of music, but it is an ordinary, commonplace music. One of my longest running fantasies has been to live in a musical (which is why I love flash mobs and Glee), and sometimes it feels like that could happen in our house: the other day, I sang a question to Lydia, and she answered it in song. And every night, we tuck our daughters into bed with “The Doxology.” It is as fitting a close to the day as it is to this story:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise him all creatures here below
Praise him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
If you’re curious about my actual diagnosis, I suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which is similar to carpal tunnel, though the initial problem develops between one’s uppermost rib and collarbone. The pain typically spread from my collarbone to my wrists, and every so often, my pinky and ring fingers would go all tingly and numb. It was no picnic, though certainly not the worst sort of chronic pain one could have.
ALSO, I have updated my Music page to include links to previous posts about music, ordering info for my CD and two videos from a 2007 session on KUGS FM. Take a peek! Enjoy.