And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
“When I was diagnosed with arthritis in my hands, I was devastated. Still in my forties, I was in no way prepared for what I considered an “old person’s disease.” I played both piano and guitar, and music was a huge part of my life. Losing the use of my fingers was unthinkable. Whatever else I was focused on, for months after that first diagnosis there was a steady undercurrent of fear, as the thought of my deteriorating hands never fully left my mind.
“Lying awake one night, I was “checking” my hands as I often did in those days – opening and closing them to see which fingers were stiff and whether I could still make a tight fist. I began to pray, reminding the Lord (as if He needed reminding!) how I needed those hands – how my music ministered to the cancer patients, nursing home residents, and children at V.B.S. I reminded Him of the occasional “special music” or offertory I would do at church and how I used songs as a springboard to tell people about Him.
Suddenly in the middle of my whiny spiritual resume, God’s sovereignty crashed my pity party, settling in my mind in the form of two statements:
1. If God wants to use my hands, He’ll keep them usable.
2. If He doesn’t want or need to use them, then IT DOESN’T MATTER.*
At those freeing word, “It doesn’t matter,” I remember feeling the stress drain away as I drifted off to sleep. For years after that I continued to play my guitar and piano, trusting that I would be able to do so for as long as God wished.
Fast forward a decade or so …
One summer my hands took a sudden turn for the worse. Knuckles were achy and swollen, and playing the guitar was just too painful to attempt. It was a glorious Michigan summer, too glorious to be inside playing the piano, especially when I could step outside my door and sit under a tree, gazing out over Lake Huron. It was my favorite place to worship God, and though I usually did that vocally with my guitar, I also spent time in prayer and reading my Bible, caressed by the warm breezes.
A few years earlier my dear husband Marty had given me a Celtic harp for our anniversary. It was an easy instrument for me to pick up, as the strings corresponded to the white keys on a piano. But since it wasn’t as versatile as a guitar, (It’s hard to rock out or sing country on a harp.) I usually ended up playing the guitar.
But this summer, unable to play my guitar, I dusted off my harp instead. It had clearly been neglected. The strings should have been replaced long ago, and some of the levers for changing keys were loose from frequent use. I bought new strings and took off the old ones. Marty helped me remove the levers, in spite of my misgivings about not being able to get them back on. We moved the loose levers to correspond with the strings I never adjusted anyway and put the tight ones where I would often use them to change keys. (If that makes no sense to non Celtic harp players, no matter. The point is, I could now tune individual strings without their going flat in the middle of a song.)
Once we put the new strings on the harp, they needed to be re-tuned for several days until they were sufficiently stretched out. After that I was able to play and sing to my heart’s content. Songs that go well with a harp, especially outside in the sunshine by a lake, are “Fairest Lord Jesus,” and “This Is My Father’s World,” as well as “The Wedding Song,” which brought back fond memories of our own lakeside wedding years ago. I taught myself some newer songs that I loved but had never tried before, along with my old “harp favorites” – “You Raise Me Up” and “Wind beneath My Wings.”
As the summer went on, my harp repertoire grew, and I scarcely missed playing the guitar. Neighbors would tell me how much they enjoyed the worship music wafting through their yards, (I didn’t know harp music carried that far!) including my Muslim next-door neighbor and her friends, as well as the Jewish family two doors down.
I was asked a couple of times to do “special music” at church, and by the end of the summer I had been asked to play and sing for a wedding. Later I was asked by a guest at that wedding to sing at HER daughter’s wedding. It seems people liked the idea of harp music at a wedding, possibly more than guitar.
I don’t remember how many “gigs” I had with my harp that summer, but it was clear to me that this was what the Lord wanted me to do for that season. Later my hands improved to where I was able to play guitar again, but I made sure I kept up my harp playing, too.
As I pointed out in my last blog, sometimes limitations can, in fact, be freeing. They can also open up new doors, or doors that we just wouldn’t see otherwise, as we’re too busy doing the things we do, “because we can.” (Or because we’re in a rut?)
Sometimes when we think God is saying “No,” He’s really saying, “Let’s do something new!”
Prayer: Lord, You know what’s best for us much better than we do! When Your guidance involves blocking the paths You don’t want us to take, help us not to react in self-pity, but rather to look for Your plan to unfold in ways we haven’t seen before. Amen.