I love Thanksgiving. Schedules slow – ideally pause – and we gather to give thanks with our loved ones. “Giving thanks” usually translates to NYC’s perennial Thanksgiving Day Parade providing ambient entertainment while mothers and grandmothers put the finishing touches on turkeys that have been rubbed, soaked, seasoned, fried, smoked, roasted, and manhandled any other way you can think of. (Nota Bene: These traditions aren’t necessarily cross-cultural. Ivan didn’t have his first “American Thanksgiving” until we started dating. Sadly, our turkey was a disaster that year.) After thanks has been given for the Bird of Plenty and its accoutrements, food is consumed to the bursting point and football is watched until someone tentatively mentions the idea of a snack a few hours later.
As many of us here in the U.S. know, this is great fun. Some of us have fond memories of parents and grandparents that date back to early childhood. If we live far from extended family, perhaps this is the only time we see them every year. For those of us who are Christ-followers, we praise God for specific ways he’s blessed us over the past year, as well as for salvation by Jesus Christ.
Today I’m writing about a gift I forgot to give thanks for. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed I don’t mention my violin very much (i.e. ever). To get us all on the same page, here are some basic facts you need to know:
- I started violin lessons in a group class when I was six
- I quickly transitioned to private lessons and joined a private high school orchestra when I was nine
- By age twelve I knew I wanted to be a professional violinist and was practicing four hours a day
- I spent high school competing in state and local competitions, preparing for the all-important college auditions
- By God’s grace, I was accepted to study with my teacher of choice at the Eastman School of Music (rival to Juilliard) after I graduated from high school
I can tell you there are a surprising number of people who accomplished just as much – if not more – than I did at that age. But even if I ran some numbers, you’d have to admit that bio looks pretty good for an eighteen-year-old living in Wisconsin. (One of those northern Midwest states that get mixed up unless you live in one of them.)
I remember Mom and Dad sitting me down before each performance as a little girl and asking God to help me play “for his glory.” My child’s mind knew God’s glory was more important than impressing people with my music, but I had no concrete idea of what “God’s glory” was, or how I could play for it. The prayer became a pre-performance ritual; I never gave it a second thought even after I was old enough to understand the abstraction.
I tried to remember to say “thank you” for good competition results or an especially good performance. For my parents’ part, they reminded me that my gifts came from God, especially if they noticed me receiving too many compliments from those around me. All in all, the system seemed adequate: God would bless my playing, I would (hopefully) say thank you, and my parents would take care of the glory part. I never imagined God would take my violin away from me.
As some of you also know, I rejoined my family in California after two years at Eastman. I earned a bachelor’s of science degree, met and married Ivan, and started my first full time job. But I still played violin: university orchestra, community orchestra, choir orchestra, ringer, solo recital, worship band, weddings du jour, violin lessons. I thought I’d play until I died.
I almost did.
I find it darkly humorous that I was hit by a car as I was walking to my first Christmas concert of the season. Somehow both I and my nineteenth-century French instrument survived the 40 mph impact, although I really don’t know how the violin made it. Talk about the providence of God. Sadly, this story doesn’t have a happy ending: My hands didn’t fare as well as my violin, so now it lurks in a corner of our music room, a memorial to the glittering past.
I’ve spent a good part of this November wondering what happens to gifts if we can’t use them. I think of the 19+ years I assumed I would always be a violinist. Even if I thanked God for the good performances, I never thanked him for the ability itself. What happens now? Is the gift gone forever? What would playing for his glory alone have looked like? (My selfish version was zero mistakes!) At this point in my life I can only guess the answers.
That’s why I’m thankful to have this present time to draw near to God, fully confident he will also draw near to me. Do I completely understand what doing something for God’s glory means even now? Perhaps not, but I know that God, who began the work of faith in my life, “will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:6). I write all this to give public testimony to the fact that I am thankful I was once a violinist. I also write to challenge and encourage you: Are there gifts you’re taking for granted or have forgotten? Now’s the time to praise the Lord.