Friday, January 30, 2009

The Growing of a Thankful Heart

A few weeks ago, following time spent with some genuinely thankful people from Romania, I commented to some friends that I want a thankful heart like that. I am generally pretty good at knowing I SHOULD be thankful, even at articulating that I am and half-heartedly believing that even when times are hard. But genuine thankfulness...that's not easy to come by.

God is so gracious!! Over the past few weeks, He has gently and graciously shown me areas in my life that I take for granted. Not in a way that leaves me feeling condemned or hopeless, but in a way that generates a true change in my heart that only His grace can accomplish. To minimize rambling, I'll try a list...

1) Monday, January 19th - I had a flat tire. Thankfully, it happened on a day when I work primarily in the clinic (rather than a typical day of driving house-to-house), and I was able to get to a Discount Tire without affecting my work schedule at all. And my forgetful heart remembered that having a car I can depend on is a luxury I haven't always had and that many people don't ever have.

2) Wednesday, January 14th - Sunday, January 25th - I was sick. Thankfully, it was nothing too incapacitating, but a sore throat, occasional headache, and mostly a nagging cough and loss of voice. Hard to sing all day without a voice, and frustrating to meet a bunch of people at my friend's wedding and sound like a smoker. But God used it to (once again) remind me that health is a gift from Him and is not to be taken for granted.

3) Tuesday, January 27th - I thought I might lose my job. This was a big one but kind of too complicated of a story to relay here. Someone in an office somewhere made a mistake, and I misinterpreted the events and wondered if the state was starting to look for excuses to cut services for my kids since the state's out of money. All of a sudden, I realized that while I've said that I'm trusting God with the future of my job (my parents keep asking me if I'm worried about losing it), when push came to shove I got scared. More importantly, though, I realized that I LOVE my job! The thought of losing even one of those kiddos over money made me tear up a little, and I realized just how thankful I am for a job that means so much and for each of those precious people in my life. 2 hours after the initial phone call that scared me, the whole issue was settled, having had nothing to do with money and everything to do with someone in an office messing up. So God taught me in 2 hours a lesson that He could have stretched out over weeks or months, or even through actually taking my job!

4) Thursday, January 29th - I pulled some sort of muscle in my back. Again, nothing debilitating but certainly uncomfortable, and it made sitting on the floor all day and lifting instruments and kids pretty hard. I realized that my agility, too, is something I take for granted - even in working with kids who don't have the physical freedom that I do.

5) Friday, January 30th - I saw Slumdog Millionaire. Sure, just a movie, but it seemed to me a perfect way to end these past few weeks. Movies like that always make me realize just how easy I have it here in my suburban american lifestyle. And, cynical as I am sometimes about the ethnocentrism of America and how many lessons we need to learn, I think I don't often stop and thank God for the blessings that we have here. I'm thankful that I haven't been part of a community pillaged and destroyed, haven't watched my loved ones murdered, haven't had to make horrific choices.

It's so evident that a thankful heart does not just HAPPEN. But God is a faithful and patient teacher, and I am learning.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Great Thou Art

I'm finally have the time and inspiration to write about my very bloggable trip to the Grand Canyon almost 2 weeks ago. I attempted it before and it just didn't flow...

I went just for the day, with a big group of people, all Romanian but 1. My friend Andrei, who lived in Romania until this year and who was a hired translator my first two times there and a kind translating friend in 07, now lives in Kentucky. He got married to an American girl named Samantha at the beginning of the month, and his parents, sisters, and friend were able to get visas less than 2 weeks ahead of time to come out for the wedding in Cali. Andrei and Sam were then accompanied on their honeymoon by this whole slew of loved ones, and I got to join the adventure for the Grand Canyon chapter. They were staying with Doru and Marta, Andrei's friends from home who are also my friends now from the Romanian church I attend every other week or so. So I met them at Doru and Marta's house early Saturday morning and we began our journey north.

my intro was so long that I feel the meat of this blog will be cheated...but here are some things that were amazing about the trip:
  • I was surrounded by Romanians! More so than I've felt since being in Romania, because unlike many of the Romanian Americans I worship with on Sundays, none of these had been in the states for more than a year or so, and for most it was their first time here. Romanian language was all around me, we ate Romanian food, talked about Romanian culture...I even watched Romanian tv and started reading a Romanian book once we returned to the house that night.

  • I found a kindred spirit in Andrei's wife. We'd never met before, but we had in common a love for Christ, and a love for Romania, and this gave us so much to talk about. She first experienced Romania via a short-term mission trip as I did, and has since fallen in love with the people, language, and culture. We both are working hard at learning the language but don't have it down yet, so we got to be confused together at times also.

  • I got to be on vacation. After a busy week of work and before an even busier one began, even 24 hours of vacation seemed heavenly. Our time at the Canyon was short and sweet, and when we got back into town, I was told plainly that I was to spend the night at the house instead of driving home to Tempe. So I got to enjoy a couple more meals with everyone and spend 1 night away from my normal life. I'll take what I can get!

  • I got to enjoy sweet fellowship and worship. Fellowship is such a sweet gift that God in his goodness gives to his children. I was able to connect with all these people I hardly know over our common love for Christ. And worship!... The culminating moment for me was when we got to the "watchtower," one of the viewpoints over the canyon. The whole group began to sing as we overlooked the Canyon (well, Samantha and I mostly listened since we didn't know the Romanian words). They sang "How Great Thou Art," and the only part I sang was the chorus, "Ce Mare Esti." He IS so great. The greatness of the Canyon was a stirring reminder of His eternality, His being so very unlike us, His majesty...the list goes on. And His greatness was that much more apparent as I was able to worship alongside those who had been saved in Romania by the same God that saved me here in Arizona. Truly, all the earth worships Him!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

the best medicine

Yesterday was just one of those days...I was in a mood, having trouble trusting God with my future, have trouble trusting God with the hectic day-to-day, and was basically just exhausted - physically, emotionally, spiritually. I spent my commute to my last session of the day crying my eyes out and just crying out to God.

I walked up to the door of the last house still wiping my eyes and composing myself. When I first set up my weekly schedule upon starting this job a year and a half ago, I purposely scheduled this kid as my last one on Friday. I've known him since long before I was a music therapist. Worked with him in a day program all through college, did respite care for him in the months leading up to moving to New York, and was thrilled to agree to drive a few miles out of my regular work area to welcome him onto my music therapy caseload when that time came. So scheduling him at the end of my work week was basically my reward for getting through a bunch of other sessions that at the time were still so new and difficult for me.

My relationship with this kid (we'll call him K) is so unique. When I met him as a 6-year-old, he was so difficult. He can't talk, and at the time had no formal system of communication except for a couple of signs. My first summer working with him consisted of a lot of him biting, kicking, screaming, hitting, etc. and a lot of me restraining him. But over the months and years, I learned him and he learned me. Seems what he needed most was someone to see that he COULD communicate and to help make that happen. He's 13 now, and we have lengthy conversations - me talking and signing and him signing back and making other gestures to help get his point across. We have inside jokes and lots of memories, and he has been so significant in developing ME as a therapist and just as a person who takes the time and energy to FIND someone.

Ok, back to yesterday. I showed up at K's house determined to hold myself together for the next hour. God had greater things in mind. Music therapy has always been super challenging for K - it's really hard for him to focus and sometimes both of us just wish we could go back to the old days of hanging out, dancing, jumping, watching movies. But yesterday it just worked. I wasn't quite as strict about sticking to a schedule, and his very specific goals were still addressed, but with a good deal of just playing surrounding them. He thinks I'm funny, and I think he's funnier, and we ended up cracking each other up. He actually fell backwards on the floor laughing so hard, and I almost joined him. We played our hearts out, sang our hearts out, and he ended up meeting his goals with more success than usual on top of it. I let him play my guitar on his lap (a privilege he literally begs me for on a regular basis) and he was remarkably gentle with it. This then earned him the privilege of dancing at the end. I cleared everything out of his way while I cleaned up, he chose his favorite beat on the piano keyboard, and he went nuts. His mom and I just enjoyed the show for awhile. I then agreed to jump with him (he loves jumping up and down more than any kid I know) if he would promise not to drive his family insane all night after getting so riled up. He pinky-swore, we jumped up and down a few times, then I eventually gathered my things and left.

Nothing in my circumstances changed between 5:15 and 6:15 yesterday evening, but my heart was 20 pounds lighter. Crazy how once in a while, the therapist receives therapy while trying to provide it. Crazy how in the midst of my sadness, God responded to my cry by providing joy in the simplest way. Something in that laughter, in that reckless music-making, in the fruit of 6 years of friendship, was used to refresh a hurting heart.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I could post a new years blog of sorts, with some kind of reflections or resolutions. But I'm not in the mood. Instead, I'm going to ramble about my latest obsession, the new Metro Light Rail in Phoenix!

I'd been waiting for this day for a few years, lame as that may sound. Now don't get me wrong - I have no expectation that the opening of a new mode of mass transit will suddenly transform suburban, sprawled Phoenix into the thriving urban environment that I so love in NYC. But even bringing a hint of that into my hometown is reason for excitement. Since my job involves driving from home to home in 5 different metro cities with a guitar, keyboard, and basket full of instruments, there won't be any practical advantage to ME with this new rail line, aside from getting downtown for arts events, baseball games, etc. But practicality is not always my primary concern.

On grand opening day, I went and explored the rail with Kendra, Pam, and Katie. We drove a few miles to the nearest stop to our house, parked there, and rode it into Phoenix. Kendra and Pam got off downtown and turned around, but Katie and I continued the adventure. We rode it to a great coffee shop just north of downtown, where we enjoyed coffee and conversation with my roommate Amanda. Then we turned around. We rode it beyond our original stop and into downtown Tempe, so that we could see the coolest part of the ride, the bridge over Tempe Town Lake. Then we turned around again and went back to our car. I've riden the rail again 3 of the last 4 days, again without much practical purpose.

I think my favorite thing about the Metro practically is the easy access to pedestrian-friendly downtown areas that have never been fun to drive and park in. But I love lots of other things about it, including:

-Mass transit for everyone! Phoenicians, particularly those in the middle and upper classes, are well-accustomed to driving private cars everywhere they go. Bus-riding, sadly, is predominantly an activity for those who have no alternative. I'll admit that even I have been too proud in the past to ride a city bus, and too scared to do so in some cases. This new light rail has generated excitement across class and race, and hopefully that will continue. It runs through at least 3 college campuses and to the core of downtown where there are lots of commuting businesspeople. All of a sudden, mass transit is the in thing.

-forced interaction with strangers. I've had so many conversations with random people in the last week. Hopefully, in the future, when the crowds have died down a bit and I'm not pressed up against these people in very awkward physical situations, these conversations can be deeper and can be used to glorify God in a lasting way. For now, I've mostly just enjoyed opportunities to be nice to people in little ways, to answer people's questions (as a valley native, Tempe resident, and Metro enthusiast), to hear people's (brief) stories, and to watch people interact with their kids/parents/grandparents/friends.

-like New York, but different. I actually heard someone say, amid a ridiculously thick crowd on a Bowl Game- bound train yesterday, "New York has nothing on this." It actually WAS busier than any train I remember being on in New York, including a rush hour train into Times Square on a Monday morning and trains heading to the Thanksgiving Day Parade. The system here is of course only a fraction of the system there, and is still a novelty here, and many other factors contribute. But it was fun to feel a little bit of that craziness. And there are 3 things, at least, that I like MORE so far about the Phoenix Metro than about the subways in NYC:

1) I intuitively know my way around. Whereas in New York, I eventually learned certain lines pretty well and could get my bearings pretty quickly, here it takes no thought. Phoenix is clearly THAT way, Mesa is clearly THAT way. Being aboveground and in a city where you can actually see the sky and some mountains is helpful too.

2) the natural world. Again, being aboveground helps. But Phoenix is really great in that we have mountains in the middle of our city. The light rail goes right past a "butte," to be accurate, commonly known as "A Mountain" because of the A for ASU that is proudly displayed partway up. And I mean RIGHT by it. I watched a little bird pecking up dust under a bush there, watched people embarking on the trail up the mountain, etc. Even on the aboveground portions of metro transit in New York, you won't see that. And mountains are clearly visible from almost the whole train ride. A clear view of the sky for the majority of the ride is nice too.

3) People don't yet ignore each other completely. I'll admit, I've found myself tempted to assume the New Yorker attitude of looking straight ahead, exuding (false, at times) confidence, and only smiling when I can't help myself. But, at least right now, that's not the Arizona way. Granted, most of the passengers so far have been tourists, not commuters, and they're on an adventure, not going to work. But I'd like to think that we'll add a little west coast warmth to the east coast mass transit idea.

Ok, when I said rambling, I meant it. I invite any local readers to embrace the light rail...and call me when you do it, because I love it. And if you aren't local and plan on visiting anytime soon, maybe you will find Phoenix just a little more inviting with its new addition.