Barbara Henry leaned across the coffee and scones at the breakfast table of Legacy House, the B&B where we were lodging at Stratford for this past summer's Shakespeare Festival. Hearing remarkable stories has been one of the great gifts David and I have received in nearly five decades of ministry. Barb's certainly was one of them.
At age 41, Barb decided she would like to take up the clarinet lessons she had abandoned as a child. She remembered that in the fifth grade one of her music teachers encouraged what he felt was a natural talent. But was she too old to start music lessons again? Was this a silly whim?
Just as she was wrestling with this decision, Barb told how she happened to be listening to a call-in program on a local Christian radio station. Two well-known counselors took the call of another woman with a similar dilemma. This woman's son had said, "Mom, you're too old to get a master's degree."
"How old are you?" asked one of the men.
"Oh, I'm 56."
"Well, there's only one thing I can think of to tell you. You're going to turn 60 no matter what. Do you want to turn 60 with a degree or without one?"
Barbara said that question just stuck with her. She was going to turn 50 one way or the other. Did she want to become 50 having gained nine years of instrumental proficiency or none?
Barb phoned the local public school's music director, and he recommended a clarinet instructor. But on contacting him, she learned that he was retiring and not available to give lessons. Calling the music director back, she informed him of this roadblock. "I guess my second choice of instrument would be the bassoon." He gave her the name of a bassoon teacher and told her that she could rent a school instrument for the rest of the summer for $5.00.
This teacher said to her, "You know, Barb, the only way to really play a band instrument is to be part a band." Upon the start of that school year, Barb's daughter was in the sixth grade, playing clarinet in a local Christian school. So Mrs. Henry, age 41, joined the sixth grade band and played with that class through junior high until they graduated to go into high school. At this point, she felt ready to join an adult band.
This is the story of how Barbara Henry learned to play the bassoon. She turned 50, as she knew she would, with nine years of developed proficiency behind her. Today, Barb is 55, and she plays professionally with the Midland Concert Band, in Midland, Michigan, in addition to other musical venues. "I even get paid for what I do!" she laughed. And now Barb has students of her own.
I've found myself asking this question of myself. You know, in six years you will turn 70. Nothing but death can prevent that from happening. Do you want to turn 70 with a novel written or do you want to turn 70 without a novel written? Do you want to turn 70 still 15 pounds heavier than your weight goal and weakening from lack of physical exercise, or do you want to turn 70 a svelte 145 pounds and as healthy as possible?
The Hungry Souls Advent Retreat committee is building this year's Retreat of Silence around the Scripture from Ephesians 1:11, "Moreover, because of what Christ has done we have become gifts to God that he delights in." Do you know that joyful feeling you receive when a child or student develops some proficiency? "Hey, look at me!" they shout, riding that two-wheeler alone for the first time. "Hey! I got an A in math!" You feel joy in their joy-filled accomplishments. God takes that same delight in you when you, "through Christ's help," as Barb emphasizes, also begin to shout, "Hey, look at me! I got that master's degree." Or,"I learned to play the bassoon!"
This is pretty terrific stuff. Don't just wanna be a wannabe. Name a goal--a wannabe dream that with persistence, determination and the help of God you can achieve. (Yes, you can.) Put your information in the following blanks. I will be _____ on my next decade birthday. This is going to happen, barring some life-ending disaster. Do I want to turn _____ having _______________, or do I want to turn _____ without having _______________?
"What would you have missed if you hadn't paid attention to this inner desire?" I asked Barb. "Oh," she sighed. "So much. So much." She went on to tell me about the little girl at a camp for severely abused and deprived children. "Some of these little girls had never even worn dresses, and we gave them a fancy dress-up 'princess' banquet. A friend and I played Bach's Third Cello Suite, A Movement from Bourrée (bassoons can play cello parts). This one little girl came up to me and with dreamy eyes said, 'No one has ever done anything like this for me.'"
"You know," Barb continued, "Christ always asks you to do things that are bigger than what you can do. I've not only learned to play the bassoon, but now, before performing, I've gone from terror-nervous to nervous-nervous! That is progress—and it's all with His help!"
Take a little time to think: What remarkable nativity, some accomplishment that is bigger than what you can do, is pressing against your inner soul? Will God be delighted if you develop this proficiency?