For (Missy) Melissa

Nearly five years ago I stepped back into my former church with a fresh start on life. At the end of the service I turned to see a familiar face from the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Collegiate Ministries). “Missy?? What are you doing here?” We gave each other the quick update on why we returned to Blacksburg (she just started a position with BCM, I returned to finish my degree). We made plans to catch up.

Later that week we met at the Squires Food Court and had lunch. When I filled her in on the events that brought me to this point in my life Missy did something no one else had done, she cried. I was instantly struck by how much compassion she could have for someone she barely knew and hadn’t seen in seven years. I was beyond blessed that God led me back to an acquaintance and made her a treasured friend.

It seems fitting that around the time our friendship began to grow she very kindly asked me to stop calling her Missy and start calling her Melissa. Just when I finally thought I’d made the mental switch, I met her in front of Bollo’s and said “Hey there, missy!” I truly meant “missy” as in how one could address a female. I’ll never forget her smiling and shaking her head as I tried to explain my unintended slip :)

As I reflect more about Melissa I remember these things:

  • Melissa was the biggest networker I’ve ever met. When she met someone new she knew who shared their interests, who they would get along with and how to bring those people together. She knew not to be all things to all people but to instead put people in touch with others with whom they could build lasting relationships. Melissa knew when she could help and who to send someone to when she couldn’t.
  • Melissa’s relationship with Christ was amazing. It wasn’t a cross she bore, it didn’t hold her back, it wasn’t like a showy piece of jewelry and it wasn’t strewn with guilt. Melissa’s relationship with Christ was a real, thriving best-friendship.
  • When Melissa shared her opinion on a matter, you knew it was authentic to her beliefs. If she gave her opinion about scripture, it came after thought and reflection. Most of us in our very enthusiastic small group would immediately chime in to answer questions or voice opinions, but Melissa would generally take time to form her response. When she did respond, it was powerful and thought provoking. I always admired her for that (among many other things).
  • I loved going places and spending relaxing quiet time drinking tea with her, but I have to laugh when I think of watching tv with Melissa. She was a hilarious person to watch tv with. Thinking of her reactions and laugh during the ridiculous shows we watched will always bring a smile to my face. When I think of her willingness to laugh and be silly it reminds me not to take the little things too seriously. Melissa knew how to have fun!
  • Melissa went to so many events of friends and students. “Hey, one of my students is in … and I want to support them. Wanna come?” Not once did I hear her complain about the number of events she attended. I wish she had counted the number of theatre, music, coffee shop performances, sporting events, games or speeches she went to in a semester to cheer on those she loved. Melissa supported others with joy!
  • If she wasn’t able to attend our small group, she sent emails to the group or individuals saying she would pray for their specific requests. Melissa received a large number of prayer requests, texts and emails every day but still made time to reply and reach out to everyone. Melissa took the power of prayer very seriously and was devout and faithful in her prayers.
  • Melissa never told me I was wrong about feeling something, it was my reaction to what I felt that mattered the most. I have never felt so distant from and mad at God as I have felt after Melissa’s passing. But I know she would tell me to work through it. To experience my emotions, talk through them with God and supportive friends. Not to hide it or be ashamed but to constructively work through it. It blows my mind that I am using the advice she gave me in life to come to terms with her passing.

A few weeks ago I had a breakthrough in my anger with God. A very loud thunderstorm erupted during the opening hymn of Saturday mass. Hearing thunder over the sound of the piano and congregation singing made me worry about the severity of the storm but I couldn’t stop playing piano to check my weather app or look outside. I could do nothing if a tornado or other damaging weather was coming. I felt helpless until I began to realize a few things:

  • I was probably in one of the sturdiest buildings in Blacksburg which also happened to be a house of the Lord. 
  • In a storm of earth, I was safe here with the Lord. 
  • In the storms of life, God has a strong temple in my soul that holds fast with strength and beauty against all things.
  • God kept His temple strong and beautiful in Melissa through all of her storms. 

I suddenly remembered a vision I had while in deep prayer in late April/early May 2011 for discernment and direction for Melissa. I saw Melissa in my mind’s eye on a map of Virginia in the midst of a mountainous wilderness. Two hands came down, picked her up and carried her toward the eastern end of the state. The hands did not set her down but created calm around her and eased her mind. “She will go through storms and uncertainty but I will keep her in the palm of My hand and bring her out of the storm”. I told Melissa about this prayerful vision when it happened and had forgotten about it until that moment. No matter what happened to Melissa, God kept her safe and brought her out of the storm. The Lord told me He was going to do that over a year ago but I couldn’t begin to fathom what He meant at the time.

In Melissa I found a very rare friend. A combination of unconditional love, a compassionate & non-judgmental attitude, and true advice from someone who wanted you to live your best possible life. The amazing part is not just that I found a friend who treated me this way, I found a friend who treated ALL of her friends this way. No matter what happened, Melissa was a good friend to all of her friends.

Six months later I find myself wondering how she can be gone when her spirit still feels so present. When I still think of asking her to go somewhere or when I think “I’ve got to tell Melissa” before I remember I can’t. When I realize I kept so many assorted teas at my house just to hear her say “ooh, I think I’ll try that one!” When it feels like she’s on a super long mission trip with no internet or phone and all I want to do is call her.

When my brain can’t wrap around the reality of life without Melissa (which, quite honestly, it hasn’t yet), I go back to this mission trip idea. I imagine her joyfully greeting new college students, helping them transition to their Heavenly home and grow in their walk with Christ. She left for this mission trip covered in prayer and love. The pain of missing her is eased by knowing she is in a place she loves and knowing she’ll tell me all about it when I see her again…

Life is Like a Metronome

This blog entry was originally written on February 12, 2007 and posted to my myspace blog (everyone had one, right?). At that point in time I was preparing to leave friends, my beloved home of six years, and a church I absolutely loved to face a new and less than ideal situation in another state. I had no idea what the future held and felt as though I were staring into a cloud. A practice session yielded a lightbulb moment…

Tonight while I was practicing with a metronome I realized how living life is like practicing with or without a metronome.  If I work on learning a piece but I always practice it ‘a tempo’ then I’ll probably never get all of the notes down the way I should.  Sure, I can play it and it sounds ok….I’ll get the gist of the piece but that’s all.  If I practice at a slower tempo, especially one hand at a time, then I’m able to learn all of the notes well with the correct fingerings.  This eases my stress level while playing the piece because I’ve really taken the time to study and learn the piece.  Even better….if I practice with a metronome, one hand at a time with a slower tempo then I’ll learn to play all of my notes correctly in tempo.  I’ll eventually practice both hands at the same time and I’ll gradually crank up the tempo on the metronome but only when I’m ready. 

I’m very guilty of trying to breeze thru a piece without taking the time to study it and learn it correctly.  My sight reading skills are good but it’s not sight reading anymore once you’ve played it.  Several times at VT a very dear friend practicing next door would hear me playing way too fast and making way too many mistakes.  He’d knock on the door and say two words when I opened it, “Speed kills”.  I would get so aggravated because even though I wanted to practice my way, I knew he was right.

So what does this have to do with life? 

How many times do we try to do something our way and fail?  We speed through life, we practice “our way” and God (or karma or whatever you believe in) tells us to slow down.  He tells us “speed kills” and that we not only need to slow down to adequately learn, we need to use God’s metronome while we’re learning.  He won’t speed up the tempo until we’re ready to move on to the next lesson or step in life.

I had a wonderful dinner with a good friend tonight!  We had a great time and enjoyed some very deep God conversations.  It made me own up to the fact that lately I’ve been “practicing” in my own way and even when I slow down I’m still not using God’s “metronome”.  That is something I really need to work on. 

Though life as I knew it was being turned upside down, at the time I had no idea the end result would lead me in the direction of my dreams. Six months later I returned to school to complete the music education degree program I’d left seven years prior. Finding this old blog last night was perfect timing because I sorely needed a reminder of its message.

I’ll close with the remainder of my old blog entry:

I encourage each of you to slow down and search for the right tempo of your own life.  May you all find peace and wisdom from whatever you perceive the Higher Power to be.

How to Enjoy Performing

During my undergraduate music major convocations the master of ceremonies told performers “Enjoy” as they walked out onstage. I was completely taken off guard the first time I heard him say it. My reply was something along the lines of “I don’t think that’s possible.” As I walked onstage, all I could think was Enjoy? I didn’t know I was supposed to enjoy performing? How on earth does anyone enjoy it? 

From 4th grade piano recitals & accompanying choir concerts…
What are people thinking about me?

to college & adulthood…
They’re judging me, aren’t they? I know they’ve heard this piece performed better. Heck, they could probably play it better themselves!

…to the one thought that plagued me every time I performed…
As soon as I make a mistake, I’ve ruined the entire performance.

 …I became more and more nervous about performing.
With self-talk like that, there’s no way I could ever enjoy it. From that moment on I was determined to find a way to calm my nerves and see if enjoying performing was even possible. 
Over the next 3 ½ years I examined what I did, how I thought and how others around me handled the same pressure.

Here are some tips from a joyfully reformed performer:

 ·      Find your meaning in the music.
What does this piece mean to you? What mood, idea, spirit or emotion do you want to convey to the audience? Developing a connection to the music gives it meaning beyond notes on a page.

 ·      Be ok with making mistakes before the performance.
Expecting a flawless performance will set you up for failure. Period. This is why cultivating meaning in performance is so important. Focus on being true to the meaning and spirit of the piece rather than playing every single note correctly.

·      Practice positive self talk when you make mistakes during rehearsal.
Knowing how not to beat yourself up takes practice! Soothing yourself in performance seldom works if you’ve never tried it before. Focus on the positive, learn from mistakes and cut yourself some slack. 

·      Know how to keep going when you make mistakes and practice how to get out of them. 
You wouldn’t hike into the middle of nowhere without knowing how to find your way out, would you? Make your mistake escape plan as you learna piece so you know where to go during a performance situation.

·      Practice and perform often in different environments, on different pianos and for different groups of people.
Get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to new to you pianos and situations. Learn how to adapt to multiple scenarios.

·      Exercise your demons before showtime.
Mentally review any mistakes that haunt you, learn from them and be kind to yourself. Imagine pulling those bad memories out of your brain and watch them float away, never to bother you again. Feel the weight lift from your body & spirit.

·      Create (or modify) your preshow routine
Establishing good habits before a performance can calm the mind and body. Sleep well the night before, eat well the day of, take time to warm up, listen to calm music and limit caffeine 3-4 hours before a performance. I made the mistake of drinking coffee and listening to The White Stripes before many performances. I was pumped up to run around the building but overly stimulated for performance nerves. 

·      Keep tabs on your self-talk before, during and after a performance
Be kind to yourself and focus on what’s true. Did you really mess up everything or did you just miss a fingering?

·      Attend performances by musicians who love performing
Not just famous musicians, I’m talking about anyone! Examine what makes their performance different from other musicians. I’ll bet they don’t sweat the small stuff. 

·      Remember why you wanted to play your instrument in the first place.
My biggest breakthrough in learning how to enjoy performing was from playing Godspell with high school musicians. These high school students spent most of their breaks playing riffs from their favorite songs and jamming with other musicians. Being around these students reminded me how much fun giging can (and should) be. I instantly felt connected to myself in high school when playing Freebird with a garage band brought me so much joy.

 ·      If all else fails, pretend you’re someone else.
This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received and it’s amazingly effective. Pick a performer who would knock the socks off that piece and play the way they would play in your situation. Sometimes taking yourself out of the equation allows skills you never knew you had to come to the surface.

After years of nausea, extreme nervousness, heart palpitations, lightheadedness and beta-blockers, I finally learned how to enjoy performing. Now I can’t help but share my freedom from fear and joy for sharing music with the world!

Have any other tips or tricks to add? Share them in the comments section!