I cannot recall anything I said or did that would cause my parents to think I wanted a Magnus electric chord organ.
Yet there it was, next to the Christmas tree, fully assembled, with my name on the gift tag. Brand new and with a bench.
I had an ear for music, like everyone else in my family. But playing a keyboard?
Did a teacher mention something to my parents? There were pianos in classrooms back when I went to school. Maybe I had hopped up and tried to play the instrument, and a teacher caught something in my eye that she recognized.
It is a mystery. My parents didn’t have money to buy a luxury like an electric organ. Yet, somehow it came to be: a musical instrument that wasn’t a loaner I had to give back at the end of the school year.
Included with the organ were two songbooks with instructions on using my left hand to push the chord buttons and my right hand to pick out the notes. Before long, I was playing songs and feeling proud.
I loved that organ. I would walk into the house after school, sit on the padded bench, and play. If Mom was there, she would listen, smile, and encourage.
I was eight or nine when I received the gift and discovered that I could make music. I wasn’t just listening or singing along. I was making it. With my hands, I could bring forth sounds that evoked … something. I couldn’t put words to it then.
One afternoon, I played the organ while alone in the living room. The windows faced west, and I saw that the sun was about to end the day. I turned the songbook pages to the piece that had become my favorite.
Then, as the sun made its way below the horizon and the colors changed the room, as the loveliness of the music filled the space, a child’s heart for music came into being.
I began to cry.
I played the music over and over until the sun disappeared. Right then, I knew that music would be preeminent in my life. I felt it tangibly, even at that young age, like a seed taking root and clinging to the soil.
And the title of the music that touched me so? The “Largo Movement” of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony. You can listen to it here as performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The music in my organ’s songbook began with the beautiful melody played on the oboe. Whenever I hear it, I think of that late afternoon and how I missed God’s call. I am sure he was using the wonder of music to draw me to himself — like he was handing me a gift.
Yet, for over 20 years, God was ignored by the girl touched that afternoon by the sunset, the symphony, and the gift.
Yes, I took that gift, and my talent flourished. I took that gift and idolized the opportunities. People fawned over my singing ability, so I decided to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. I took that gift and used it for Darla, who undoubtedly was on her way to becoming a star! And so, I was free to make selfish choices and life-altering mistakes that affect my life to this day.
Oh, glorious music! I sang it, studied it, watched it, read it. I dreamed that the music world would recognize and lift me. I adored the musician’s life and all of its perks and enticements.
But the wonderful thing is that God did not forget about me. There came a time when the seed he planted all those years ago made it through the weeds. Through a variety of circumstances, I learned more about Jesus and found true forgiveness, joy, and purpose. I understood that I was given the gift of music to show off God, not myself. Soon, I put my career aspirations aside and partook in music as simply another enjoyable activity.
It was a humbling experience when I began to attend and sing in church, as a soloist, in the choir, and along with the congregation. That sealed it for me. Hundreds of people have listened to me sing — in church, bars, schools, on lawns and on stages, soothing the homeless and entertaining the famous. In all my years, nothing has been more thrilling and freeing than singing about the greatness of God during a worship service. Nothing.
I love being a writer, a gardener, a teacher, and a singer. I love taking songs — secular or worship — and bringing the words and melodies alive uniquely. But I love the God who created me and gave me the capacity to do this even more. And I no longer sing for applause, fame, and fortune.
I sing for Him.
For many years, I had the privilege of singing O Holy Night — one of my favorite Christmas hymns — as a soloist during my church’s annual Christmas Eve candlelight service. Music can still bring me to tears, as that hymn does, especially the melody and words of these two lines:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
There is the Gift.
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)