When I Couldn’t Toot My Horn

She and her band of merry musicians were treated like royalty as they made their perennial trek from the hormone-ravaged halls of the junior high to the prepubescent kid-ranch called elementary school. Their quest was to excite jubilant throngs of students with a buffet of instrumentation upon which they would indulge their aural appetites. At the end of their feasting, each 5th grade student was to select an instrument they would begin learning the following year.

Curious and wonder-filled, I sampled the symphonic spectrum. From the trill of flutes to the blats of brass to syncopated percussion beats. How excited I was to end my conscription in piano purgatory and broaden my musical expression.

In the parade of valves and pads and sticks and slides, my heart found camaraderie with the brass section. Specifically, I was enthralled by circular turns of tubing and hand-muffled sounds. I was fascinated by the range of tones traversed with the simple repositioning of pursed lips. My imagination brought forth a scene in which I played my horn to summon the King’s hounds for a fox hunt. Yes! I had made my decision. I wanted to play the French Horn.

Alas, there was no horn tootin’ in my future. Instead, I would squawk sounds like angry water fowl with my mother’s clarinet.

The dictum of “no” to the French horn and “yes” to the clarinet has provided enduring perspective. I can grumble about the trajectory my orchestral career might have traversed had my lips trilled into a metal mouthpiece instead of sucking a reed. Such speculation is packed with presumption. Still, passions are powerful. They need tending in the mix of the “no’s” and “yes’s” that lie along the tentacled paths we wander. Paths that criss-cross and spread and tangle and stretch.

I ponder my path. Often. I search-out roads to personal fulfillment, service, success, and rest. And as my journey lengthens, I come to deeper understanding that my feet fall not just upon a happy trail of “yes”, but also “no” and “wait” and “yes…but.”

A recent collision with “no” revived the melodic memory of a French horn’s bellow. My story has a chapter with that unrealized dream. A yearning that drifted – for a time – in restlessness. And now my soul seeps a fresh grief.

So what do I do with my French Horn nixing and other encounters with “no”?

Day after day, I reaffirm human dignity, acknowledge fallibility, and hope for alternative paths to flourishing. I fight commiseration and plead for the humility to submit to the Father who soothes our hurt with a holy poultice of grace and forgiveness. Healing comes through a faith-filled “yes” to the Sovereign who makes rightful claim on every creature and every action.

In his memoir, Life is Mostly Edges, Calvin Miller offers this: “Letting go of any drive releases the soul, and those who can’t quit struggling in an attempt to realize their dreams will be the last to realize them.” (p.265) There is a delicate tension between the consuming drive for desire and a settled trust that we are walking a gracious and satisfying path. A path that includes “yes” and “no”. French horns and clarinets.

So, as we take another step into life this day, may we embody this perspective:

“The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness. Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, its love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child.” (Thomas R. Kelley, A Testament of Devotion, p.28)

A Passion for Paint

“But he gives more grace.” A provoking phrase, purposely placed in the midst of a discourse on desire and passions.*

Something I’m passionate about is a smooth, clean, well-painted wall. Crisp lines. Deep color. Vibrant contrast. In such rooms I long to linger. However, my passion is not shared by all in my home.

Some have lesser affinity for the beauty of walls done well. Instead, walls are seen as objects for tactile exploration.

For example, consider the Albatross Glide. Picture a child, arms stretched wide and fingers extended to the tip such that both the left and right sides of a stairwell or hallway can be touched. From this posture the child glides birdlike from floor to floor or room to room, their fingers leaving shadowy entrails on the painted surface. The walls of my home are marked by migratory patterns flown by my nest of ‘birds.’

For teen boys, high-fiving the bulkhead is popular. A good slap, high up the wall, confirms an increasing stature. Those high-fives have left a dirty, and unwelcome, “hey, dad!” greeting on the second floor overhang.

Other versions of painted wall abuse include the pin-balling backpack, the shoe shake-and-launch, and the momentum saving turn-the-corner hand grab. Left behind are divots, dings and rubber streaks – evidence of happy children who have passion for things other than pretty walls.

Such are the skirmishes with desire that weave their way through the warp and woof of today. We are passionate people. Lines will be drawn on many fronts beyond latex paint.

So as I ponder chapter four of his epistle, I observe James arguing toward grace. Grace for what? Our misplaced desires. Desires that result in anti-God allegiances and destructive behaviors. Passions that can metaphorically, or literally, kill. Passions and desires that usurp God’s proper place. In a word, idolatry.

And we are all guilty.

Yes, more grace, please.

Grace for when I can’t get what I want. Grace to drown my discontent. Grace to unwind me when tangled in selfishness. Grace to reveal that my desire for perfectly painted walls is a log in my vision that obstructs my view to all but the spec of fingerprints.

Many times I’ve stumbled or slipped or even rushed into a tyrannical lecture on the value of a fine paint job. My desires aren’t necessarily wrong. Discussion about the walls in my home should include the issues of respect and stewardship and reasonable behavior. But grace must be the ever-fresh principle that leads to a first place love of God, and a care-filled love of others.

Humility. Submission. Gentleness. Forgiveness. Holy antidotes to misplaced passion. The moments of today will be strung between opposing desires.

Will I give more grace?

* “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:1–10, ESV)