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My Mother: “I’m sorry Kyle, but you’ll have to choose…you can’t do both!”
Ok…she really didn’t say that…but ever since I was very small, I knew at least one thing for sure…I wanted to be a musician.
As I’ve discussed in several of my past Change Of Heart posts, choosing the life of a musician over being a “grown-up” is a mixed-bag. For me, being a professional musician carried a heavy price-tag and took my addiction-prone soul into places it should have never gone.
My quest for performing provided me opportunities and experiences that I could have never dreamed of and took me places I’d never imagined. That quest also triggered some very strong desires to use addictive substances. For many years I quietly suffered the ravages of alcoholism behind the scenes.
Over the past few years, I’ve truly struggled to find a balance between being a musician and being a grown-up. My quest to play music has slowly morphed into the quest to hear music…the music of the spirit.
Thanks for taking a few minutes to join me on this quest…Lets Go!
An interesting experiment…
One day at the height of the morning commute, a young man in jeans, t-shirt, and a baseball cap walked into a busy Washington D.C. subway terminal, opened his violin case and began to play. As hidden cameras watched, people came and went.
People just like you and me walked by. Some were probably thinking about where they’d have lunch today, or if anybody would notice their new hair style. Undoubtedly some were preoccupied with more serious matters… relationship problems, family troubles, or health issues. But whatever they were thinking, nearly 1100 people walked by in the 45 minutes that the young man played. Only seven of them stopped for more than a few seconds to listen (among them was a 3-year-old child who was hurriedly escorted away by his mother).
…but things are not as they seem
We’ve all seen street performers before, so this scene might not seem strange at first glance. However, the violin was no ordinary violin. Made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari, it had recently been purchased for an estimated $3.5 Million. And the young man in jeans and t-shirt was no ordinary youth…His name is Joshua Bell, and he is a former child prodigy and one of the most accomplished musicians in the world. And the music he played was no ordinary music… seven of the most beautiful and challenging violin pieces of all time, written by Bach, Brahms, Schubert, and Massenet, among others.
Take a look at a short sample of what happened…about 6 minutes into the performance, somebody finally noticed the violinist. He walked away, but returned a few minutes later to listen again, and then gave Bell his first tip of the day:
(click on the video below to play)
Video compliments of The Washington Post
This scene repeated itself for the next 35 minutes–occasionally somebody would notice Joshua long enough to drop a few coins in the violin case. Nobody clapped or applauded as each song ended. Finally, near the end of the impromptu concert, One person recognized Joshua Bell and briefly engaged in conversation with him:
(click on video below to play)
Video compliments of The Washington Post
This little experimental concert was staged by The Washington Post. In the article “ Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? “, Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten detailed what happened.
“I could make an OK living…”
For 43 minutes, almost nobody stopped to listen. In the end, Joshua Bell made a grand total of $32.17, mostly in quarters, dimes, nickels, and even pennies. Joshua, who packs concert halls where audiences pay a cumulative $1,000 per MINUTE for the privilege of hearing him play took it all in stride. “Actually,” Bell said with a laugh, “that’s not so bad, considering. That’s 40 bucks an hour. I could make an okay living doing this, and I wouldn’t have to pay an agent.”
This story recently came to my attention…
…as I listened to a BYU devotional speech, given in January 2019 by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
At the conclusion of the story, President Uchtdorf pointed out:
One person who had passed within four feet of Joshua Bell later could not recall that he had even seen a musician on his way to work…. this man had been wearing earbuds, listening to a favorite rock song on his personal playlist. Ironically, the lyrics of the song were about failing to see the beauty right before your eyes.
This experiment can prompt us to look inside our hearts and ask, “Can I hear the music of the Spirit… or is life too rushed?” Can we hear the gentle call of our beloved Savior? Do we hear His voice? Too busy or burdened? Too filled with the thousand daily things that demand our attention?
My beloved brothers and sisters, my dear friends, I testify that our loving Father in Heaven is reaching out to you. The Savior is speaking to you: “Come, follow me.”— Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
We’ll come back to President Uchtdorf and the lessons of Joshua Bell in a minute, but first, let’s talk about the Grace of God.
The Doctrine and Covenants reveals that even the Savior benefited from God’s Grace during his mortal life on earth:
“And I, John, saw that he [Christ] received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;–Doctrine and Covenants, Section 93:12-13 (emphasis added)
“And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;”
We are also told that…
“…he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”—Doctrine and Covenants, Section 50:24
Notice the distinction? Christ did not have a fullness at first, but received grace for grace. Then as he grew in the Spirit, he continued from grace to grace. As he received more grace, he also received more light. So… why make this distinction (for vs. to), what does it mean, and how does it work?
Usually, it’s a game of baby steps.
God gives us a small gift…we get grace for the sake of grace…not because we deserve it, but because God loves us. As we continue forward in our path, we go from the grace we already received TO the next one that God wants to give us. We receive grace (and light) and move on to greater grace (and greater light)…then greater-greater grace (and greater-greater light) and so on, until WE reach “the perfect day”, just like our Savior.
S. Michael Wilcox compares God’s Grace to climbing the stairs. Each step builds upon the other. One stair is labeled “Knowledge”, and the next is labeled “Wisdom”. And the pattern continues from there… knowledge, wisdom, knowledge, wisdom, and so on.
So, what’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”–Anonymous
“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
― Albert Einstein
Grace for Grace, and Grace to Grace
First we receive Grace FOR Grace: God gives us, free of charge and without our deserving it, a little bit of knowledge. Now, what? We try to put that knowledge into practice. We walk the path. Sometimes our knowledge becomes wisdom quickly, but usually we proceed slowly. And sometimes we’ll slip back down the step and have to get that piece of knowledge again. And again…and again…as many times as it takes.
Then, as our knowledge becomes wisdom we go from Grace TO Grace. We proceed from the first grace to a point where God will give us a little greater light and another piece of knowledge. Then we’re ready to take the next step, walk the path to knowledge a bit more, and so on, and so on.
..by the Grace of God
There has been much discussion of Grace across the whole of Christianity and throughout the ages.
Simply put, Grace is the help God gives us. Sometimes it IS something he gives us when we ask for it. But more often than not, Grace is help that we are given when we feel unworthy of receiving it. Help that we receive in spite of our so-called “sinful” acts, and regardless of whether we have asked for help or not.
This definition comes from my personal experience. As an alcoholic, His Grace was manifest in my life nearly every day, although in the depths of my trials, I seldom even recognized it for what it was. But in hindsight, his influence was all around me, almost constantly.
Here’s how it worked for me:
Every-day Grace (Receiving Knowledge)
Just like the Savior’s path through mortal life, my journey of recovery from alcoholism started by receiving Grace for Grace. God’s Grace showed up in in the form of vague impressions and chance interactions with friends, co-workers, band-mates, and complete strangers. Over a period of many years, although I did not have the desire to quit drinking, VERY frequently I was given the strength and desire to abstain until I got safely home before I drank.
I was also blessed with a strong and recurring impression that kept my addictions from “branching out” to the use of street drugs, as I had seen SO many friends and associates in the music industry do. In my work at the DBH Receiving Center and in LDS 12-step meetings, I hear many stories of what people’s addictions to meth and heroin have driven them to do. Now I truly appreciate just how blessed I am, when by the Grace of God, I was “only” an alcoholic.
Receiving Grace for Grace gave me the knowledge and experience that prepared me to step up to the next level. Once I was prepared to take another step up, God’s Grace took the knowledge I’d received and converted it to wisdom. And with this, I progressed from one Grace to the next…toward a more substantial step.
Life-changing Grace (Gaining Wisdom)
On rare occasions, God’s Grace took the form of a life-changing event. Recall my story in the recent post “Serving Others…in the Twilight Zone“.
I was prompted by the spirit to do a good deed for a stranger who I’ll call “Suzy. I met Suzy in a cold, dark 7-Eleven parking lot. She was stranded there, so I gave her a ride home. As I drove, Suzy testified to me (completely out of the blue) of the power that giving up her addiction had given her. Through the power of His Grace, she was able to make a major life change, leaving a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. Although she claimed (repeatedly) not to be a religious person, she cited God’s Grace as the reason she changed. The Holy Ghost powerfully confirmed the truth of her words and her powerful story of recovery inspired me to completely quit drinking, at least briefly.
Another step in my journey to recovery came, by God’s Grace, at the funeral of a dear friend and former band-mate, Winston Ford.
Winston died in a 1-car roll-over crash on the way home from a band performance in the very early hours of the morning. I firmly believe the accident was alcohol-related, although it was not reported as such.
At this time, I was at the very worst point in my journey with alcoholism. I was certainly not worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. However, during Winston’s funeral, I had an overwhelming spiritual experience.
I’ll stop short of calling it a vision, but it certainly changed my point of view…
I was moved to tears as Winston’s close personal friend Phillip Bailey (the lead singer for Earth, Wind and Fire) sang “Keep Your Head to the Sky”. It was not sadness that I felt at Winston’s passing, but an intense feeling that God loves each and every one of us–even ME.
God’s love overwhelmed me in spite of my blatant disobedience to his “law of health”. I was given the undeniable impression that if I didn’t change my behavior, and do it soon, I would meet the same end as Winston. I knew that, at that time, I was not worthy to meet God. What I did not realize until much later is that as a literal Child of God, I was deserving of his grace and inspiration. Without my even realizing it, He had directed and blessed my life in a significant way that day.
The idea of change was placed in my mind, although I did not change my behavior immediately. This event took place less than 2 months before I met Suzy. Then, about 2 months after my chance meeting with Suzy, the miracles came into my life fast and furious, leading to my first real attempt at lasting sobriety. That’s a story for another day, but trust me when I say that EVERYBODY, and especially those suffering with addiction, depression, and other forms of mental illness are blessed with the Grace of God on an almost constant basis.
Lessons from the Subway
Once upon a time, world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell took his Stradivarius into the D.C. subway and played as an anonymous “busker” for the bustling commuters. Of the thousands who passed, only a few stopped to listen. Joshua noticed that the people who wanted to stop were mostly children. However, their parents were very keen on rushing them along.
Like the sound of a violin in the subway station, hearing the music of the spirit can be difficult and frustrating. Sadly, this process can seem nearly impossible when our brain chemistry causes us to be focused on our depression or to chase after our addictions.
What is the lesson we can learn from Joshua Bell’s subway experiment? President Dieter F. Uchtdorf summarized it this way:
Some of you may be thinking, “The gospel might work fine for other people. But not for me. I have made mistakes. Lots of them. Sometimes I make the same mistakes over and over. I try to repent, but it doesn’t take. I feel ashamed and guilty. I am not like others in my family or in my ward.”
To all who feel defective in some way, may I tell you a secret?
We are all defective. You. Me. Everyone.
“But,” you say, “I am a special case. I think I make too many mistakes, too often.”
Yes, you are mortal. And mortals fall short. Time and again.
Mistakes are events on the timeline of your life. But they don’t define your life.
They don’t define you as a person or as a child of God. However, what you do about your mistakes by using the gifts given to us by Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ will go a long way in defining the person you will yet become.— Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
So, what are the gifts President Uchtdorf refers to?
Our Heavenly Father gives us these gifts every day, as we’ve already discussed. I know it’s difficult to see when we’re “in the trenches” of addiction and depression, but I testify to you that he loves EACH of his children…and you are one of them! His Grace is there for you if you will only listen and see.
And what are the gifts His Son Jesus Christ gives us? I love the old Dan Fogelberg song that was written to his earthly father, but more importantly, made reference to our Eternal elder brother:
An only child, alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son;
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none.
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay.
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old,–Dan Fogelberg, “The Leader of the Band”
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man.
I am a living legacy to the leader of the band.
It is true…
Christ’s blood runs through our instruments and his song is in our souls. His suffering is not only for our sins, but he also suffered our individual infirmities, our individual pains and our individual weaknesses. He understands in brutal detail what we are going through. Christ knows what your cravings feel like. He has felt the intense sensations of your chemical withdrawal symptoms. He knows the pain of stigma and shame. And, his atonement makes it possible for ALL of his father’s children (including YOU) to know the joy of being redeemed and loved unconditionally.
Even in our poor attempts to imitate his perfect life, we are His living legacy. As he has strengthened us by experiencing our pains, so WE can strengthen others who are going through those same pains by serving those around us. I am lifted and strengthened every time I hear a fellow addict’s story. And I feel a small measure of the joy that Christ must feel for us each time we seek to help each other through our mutually experienced trials.
A gift given to ALL…
I have learned more about Christ’s atonement in the past few months as I work with the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program than I knew from my preceding 55+ years on this earth combined. It is obvious to me that God loves each and every one of us, and I have seen Christ’s atonement at work more in the lives of those of us who suffer with addiction and depression than we can ever imagine.
It’s true: God’s work and glory IS to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of you and me. He is a loving Father who wants us to return to him. There is nothing that you and I can do that puts us beyond his love, or beyond the power of Christ’s atonement.
Let’s end today (as we frequently do) with some parting words from Elder Holland:
“Come as you are,” a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, “Don’t plan to stay as you are.” We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be.–Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “Songs Sung and Unsung”, April 2017 General Conference
I pray we can each take a moment to smile and remember that God wants us to succeed and that He gives us His Grace everyday to help us along the path. I know that as we proceed from grace to grace, we will most certainly become more than we ever thought we could be.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Ever keep in exercise the principle of mercy and be ready to forgive a brother on the first intimation of repentance and asking forgiveness.”
“Come on, dear brother, since the war is past,— Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church, 5:162
For friends at first are friends again at last.”
Your stories inspire me! Feel free to leave me a comment below, or PM me at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE.
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