Last week I was in Las Vegas at a huge conference for my job in IT. As I sat way up in the nosebleeds in the arena needed to hold the 6,000+ people in attendance, I felt more than a little insignificant. I looked around and saw so many people that seemed to have more knowledge and experience than me, and though that could be a good thing - an opportunity to learn - it was also overwhelming!
Where do I start? There is so much, so many choices bombarding me everyday. I struggle with choosing an area to focus on and get better at, because I feel like if I do, I will neglect everything else - and what if there was a better choice and one that would have been more important or had more impact? Nearing 40, I'm starting to feel like my potential is fading. I used to be the youngest in the room, and many times the only woman. That was my identity - the young, promising woman poised for success, but now I ask myself, "Where did my potential go? What has been my contribution, and did anyone notice?"
Now, when I hear a motivational speaker, I get all fired up...for a minute. When I was younger and less experienced, I was more easily inspired, but the older I get, my level of cynicism grows as my level of inspiration wanes. I'm now more grounded and practical and want to see my actions and contributions matter. I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out.
"I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out."
Last week, I realized it was time to embrace that being a small part of something big is enough. As I pondered what this meant in my real life here's what I came up with:
What about you? Do you feel like you have to be on top to matter or have you already mastered the art of teamwork and honing your specific skills so that you can compliment others with a common, big-picture goal? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I often hold back tears. There are various reasons - something reminds me of my grandma, my son outgrows an especially cute shirt, my husband says I look nice, someone else’s kid does a fantastic job at a school program - I’m really not picky with my teariness! Many of the times that I’ve felt like crying happy tears were because of music. A friend who I’ve never heard sing gets up and belts out an impromptu performance with a band, a Prince impersonator plays the piano, a child sings a clear, simple song, I am in a large crowd and can sing at the top of my lungs without judgement, the lyrics to a song say exactly what I feel, a song brings a vivid memory back to life, or the complexity and beauty of classical music overwhelms me - cue tears!
Music doesn't only make me cry, it inspires me. There are all sorts of music - some with lyrics that would make you blush, some that only sound good with a major twang, and some with a better beat than melody. I love all that this abstract thing we call music is - music is math, it’s art, it’s emotion, and it’s everywhere! Music brings people together, transforms us, allows us to express what’s deep inside, and displays God’s perfect design.
Music brings people together
Music connects us. Kids in a school choir from different social circles become friends over a common interest. Teens in a garage band become lifelong friends. A shared favorite band is a sign on a first date that a relationship will work. Strangers that both play an instrument are able to strike up a conversation.
You don't have to be a musician yourself to connect with others over music. Music is present at many of life's events where people gather - weddings, birthday parties, and even funerals. It's inter-generational, a conversation starter, and gives us a comfortable way to be together without talking. The same song can be appreciated by people who speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, or disagree on most everything else! Music connects us.
Music transforms us
Music transforms a shy kid into a performer, a stutterer into a clear communicator, a sad person into a healed person, a determined person into an accomplished one. I have a learned ability to play music, not a natural one. I’m so incredibly grateful to have taken piano lessons from ages 6-17 from an incredible musician, Ruth Berkebile. I am one of the hundreds of kids whose lives she impacted. (Here come my “leaky” eyes again!) I learned about getting better at something through practice and having the patience to see the results of that practice. She made me count, she taught me the theory behind the music, she made me sit up straight, she believed I could, she taught me to improvise. She gave me a lifelong gift, and when she suggested I teach piano, I could only hope to have a fraction of the impact she had on me and my life.
When I tried out for the school choir in Jr. High, I considered myself a "bad" signer, but thought I had a chance of getting in because I knew they needed accompanists. I got in, and though I don't know for sure it was my piano playing ability that got me there, I have a strong suspicion! Being in a choir gave me the opportunity to learn that I could be fulfilled without being the best, that surrounding myself with others who were better than me would help me grow, and that I could get better even without a natural ability. One of my proudest accomplishments was when I went from a novice singer who sang quietly to getting a 1 rating in a solo singing contest. Mr. Howard Whittlesey was my choir director that, even though he had perfect pitch, believed in students who didn't. He taught, he coached, and he connected his students with other musicians who helped each other grow. He gave structure and attainable goals that built on one another. What an incredible lesson about our own ability to transform our lives!
Music allows us to express ourselves
Now here I am at 38 years old, teaching a few young kids piano lessons (including my own children), getting to play at church occasionally, playing the piano for fun, and enjoying getting better with practice. It’s amazing to have the chance to disappear into the music sometimes, and even to focus on technique and small improvement. When I'm stressed, it helps to sing along with the car radio, listen to classical music before bed, play a familiar song on the piano at home, or throw myself into trying a brand new song.
Most of us have playlists we listen to when we feel a certain way - angry, romantic, excited - and ones that help us with certain activities like exercising, studying, or sleeping. Emotion and music are linked together. Music helps us to experience emotions again and again. You can hear a certain song and be immediately transported to the same emotions you had when you heard it the first time. My husband and I, like most couples, have a song, and even though it became our song over 20 years ago, I still have that feeling of young love when I hear it.
"...music is math, it's art, it's emotion, and it's everywhere!"
Music shows me God
There is so much math and symmetry and so many interconnected relationships in music, that my mind can't comprehend a way that it could have just "happened." Someone had to design it. Though I myself don't have a musical ear, many do, and there's no other way that I can explain a small child with the ability to sit at a piano and play any song they've heard or a singer who can harmonize and improvise or a composer who can dream up symphonies than to believe those people have God-given gifts. Music has long been a way to praise and worship, and many musicians get their start in church. I believe in a creator God, and I think music was a pretty incredible creation!
A life in order is what I write about, and I think music can play a large part in a meaningful life. Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities listen to, play, learn, sing, teach, feel, appreciate, see God, and see others’ hearts in music?
As the holidays approach, I begin to think more about my Grandma who passed away on Thanksgiving Day 5 years ago. She lived 98 years, and I had the privilege to know her for 32 of those. Appropriately, earlier this week I saw a quote, "Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone," and it made me sad to think about three of my four grandparents who are gone. But then I realized how fortunate I am to have had so many good examples in my life (including my other Grandma who I'm blessed to still have!) What a great way to honor them by being the things I loved most about them!
I have two Grandpas and one Grandma who are in heaven. I don't know if there's anyway that they can look down on this world or not, but it's comforting to think that they might be. I hope that if that's the case, they'd be proud to see their granddaughter living out the lessons they taught me. One of my grandfathers died when I was only 9, but I have vivid memories and lessons learned from him just like I do my other grandpa who died when I was almost 30. I've chosen three qualities from each of my grandparents that I want to display in my own life, and I'll start with my Grandma Lena who I had a very special bond with.
Grandpa Ralph (married to Grandma Lena)
I'm a bit tear-stained as I write this because I miss them all so much, but it is nice to relive these memories and see how the things I loved so much about these pillars in my life still resonate in me today. Were these people perfect? of course not, but in these few ways and many more that I don't have time to share, they provided me a framework for a really fulfilling life. I want to apply these qualities to my life and I sincerely hope that some day my kids and future grandkids will remember some of these same types of things about my life that will help guide their future. Take the time to list out the things you loved most about the people who are gone from your life, but certainly not forgotten. It will make your heart feel very full!
The final way to define order is to request something be made or supplied to you - - or in short, ask for help. As women, wives, moms, professionals, caregivers, volunteers, or women who are crazy enough to try wearing multiple hats at once, we tend to take pride in the “I can do it all” gene we think we have. I know I often try to do it all, fail, and then complain about it. When I realized that making the unattainable my goal was unhealthy and just plain depressing, I stopped equating asking for help with weakness. I now put in “orders” for help all the time!
I used to use coupons, shop around, and price match, but now there’s Amazon Prime. I’m still thrifty, but now when I think of something I need that can’t be purchased on our weekly trip to local discount stores, I look it up on my Amazon app and buy it right then. How amazing is it that the item will be on my doorstep before I would make it to ‘town’ to go shopping?!
Then there are GRANDMAS - -not only can I ask them for help, but I’ve also learned to accept help when it’s offered to me by my mom and mother-in-laws (yep, that’s plural – I’m lucky enough to have two. And that is seriously not sarcasm!) Help has come in the form of house cleaning, cooking, laundry, and child care. One Christmas I got new socks from one mother-in-law and kitchen glasses from the other because they had noticed while helping with my laundry and dishes that I had holes in my socks and chips in my glasses. Before kids, I would have been offended, but I was actually touched. All three Grandmas have watched sick kids, helped with school pickup, taken them to doctor appointments, driven to sports practices, and chaperoned school field trips. These are all things I would rather have done myself, but in reality, I couldn’t, and Grandma saved the day! (Grandpas have done their share, too!)
You may not be as fortunate as I am to have parents and in-laws who are willing, able, or geographically close enough to help in this way, but we all have a variety of people in our lives that, if asked, will help in some way. A co-worker, someone from church, a child’s friend’s parent, scout leader, neighbor, etc. will likely say yes when you ask for help for one specific request.
The last example of how asking for help leads to a life in order is the cleaning lady. I learned from my mom that a little dirt never hurt and that tidy trumps a deep clean every day of the week! I like order, but don’t think of it as a synonym with clean. Dusting, vacuuming and tub scrubbing have never been on my priority list, but I like the end result! I used to clean on the weekends to avoid the guilt of having a dirty house, but then be mad about using up my precious free time.
My husband surprised me (and scored big brownie points) one Christmas when he got me a cleaning service! My house got dusted, floors vacuumed and mopped, toilets and tubs scrubbed, and sheets changed every other week! I still handled the clutter, but I like that part. The first weekend after the cleaning lady came, I sat on the couch and read a book - - READ A BOOK – on a SATURDAY MORNING – what?? It was amazing! Paying someone to clean your house does more than get it clean, it motivates you keep it picked up, takes away your guilt for not cleaning, reduces your stress, and gives you back precious time! The money for this service may not be in everyone’s budget, but there are many items I would give up to pay for a cleaning lady! Another option is to treat yourself as the cleaning lady and set aside a realistic amount of time to do the job and prepare for that time the same way you would if someone else was doing the cleaning for you. Get your family involved in the pre-work by picking up clothes, toys, and clutter. When it's time to do the cleaning, send everyone out of the house so you can clean without distraction. Treat it like you were at someone else's house (where cleaning is always more fun!) Then pay yourself either with a treat or by putting a little money aside in a special account that can grow over time.
We’ve come to the end of the series on the definitions of order - doing things in chronological order, arranging items within boundaries, telling your stuff and time what to do in an authoritative way, and requesting items to be provided to you. I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard to remember and practice all of these principles all of the time, but I want to help you find practical ways to infuse order into your everyday life. Thanks for sticking with me so far. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment on a post, contact me through the site, or email me at email@example.com. There’s so much more to come - I can hardly wait to write more! Next time I'll be talking about using creativity to create order.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!