Sunday, March 20, 2016

Grace in the Key Changes of Life

Music is a gifted discovery.

Even before Jessica brought the worlds of opera and classical music into my living room (and dining room and basement, not to mention other rooms in my heart and life), I have long been enamored at how composers and musicians can combine the mathematics of a musical score with the mechanics of a musical instrument and create a beautiful sound that makes people cry.

Or more accurately, create sequences of sounds that make people cry. It’s the contrast we notice as the music moves from one chord to another, from the minor to the major, from staccato to legato, from suspenseful to resolute. The change is what creates the beauty that magically draws out the tears.

Music is what’s used in movies to, quite literally, set the tone. It’s what let’s us know whether we should be fearful or happy; it’s what gives us a heads up to a sad ending.

In nearly all episodes of ABC’s Modern Family (I am catching the reruns at the dinner hour while Jessica and babies are off on an extended singing gig), every branch of the family hits meltdown mode at some point. Conflicts and dynamics reach what appears to be an unrecoverable peak. And then, with just two minutes left in the episode, the emotive music trickles in and the voice of the family member who’s been narrating the episode (in its mockumentary format) comes on in resolved tones saying something like “yeh, we’re a crazy family, but we’re our crazy family.” The narrator’s words are always well-written and inspiring, but it’s the music that makes it believable, that makes you feel that all the forgiveness, understanding, and grace-giving needed was actually bestowed and accepted in those two minutes. You wouldn’t believe this without the music.

And it got me to thinking.

We all need those moments when, after all elements of our lives have reached their full fevered pitch, our personal musicscape changes keys and our Narrator ties it all together for us, leaving us with at least the very slightest inspiration that gets us to say, even ever so weakly: I can do this.

Thankfully, this happens in real life, not just on television. I know this to be true.

The musicscape of our lives, of course, isn’t an audible soundtrack (although I know we’d all have a blast creating one). In the situations and pain that we face, the shift from a minor to a major key comes in the form of moments of grace. Or, if you will, grace notes. It’s those moments when the finger of God pushes through the veil like a finger pushing through shrink wrap, and we are touched. A few years ago, in a conversation with mother-in-law-for-life Mama Sue, we came to call these poke-throughs “God stamps,” divinely coincidental events that left us no doubt that God’s stamp was all over this journey, that He was with us just as sure as the tears on our cheeks. For those who’ve been journeying along with me you know these “stamps” as The Deer Story, The Rainbow Story, and, in a direct connection to music, The Church Bells story. (So maybe the musicscape of our lives can be literal music after all.)

And just like the change in the music that sparks emotion, it’s the contrast of the darkness of a situation with the light of God’s poke-through that sparks a moment of resolve, or strength, or encouragement.


In recent days many people around me have been experiencing great loss. In the past few weeks, our friends Dan and Brittany lost their dear one-year-old Avery after a year of overcoming one obstacle over another. We lost Jessica’s dear uncle Ken to a long battle with cancer. Our friend Amy lost her much-to-young uncle to short battle with cancer. My neighbor across the street lost his mom. A neighbor behind us passed away. My cousins Mike and Susan are well over halfway to the one-year mark of losing their precious 3-year old Will. While I don’t know them personally, I’ve been intimately touched by the loss of Joey Feek, wife of Rory Feek and part of the Christian/Country duo of Joey + Rory. And those are the tough situations that come to mind without even thinking. There are many more.

I write this today, as a prayer, for my many friends and family members who are in the epicenter of loss. I wish, hope, and pray that you have moments when you modulate from the minor to the major chord, that you experience a poke-through from God that gives you a touch of grace, a moment that gives you enough strength to say, even ever so slightly, “I can do this.”

For those, like me, who’ve lost a spouse, as you move farther, and further, from the first moment of loss, you find that there are three dates on the calendar that tend to have their own pulse: your spouse’s birthday, your spouse’s date of death, and your wedding anniversary. I’m writing today in commemoration of our wedding anniversary. I’m using the occasion of this date to somehow try to pay forward the comfort I received from God. His grace is real. And as the apostle Paul said, it is sufficient. When I think, though, how God’s grace ministered to me, the word “sufficient” seems a gross understatement. But from the sense that God’s grace is all we need, which is what’s being said here, the measure is exactly right.

It’s fitting, too, that today, March 20, marks the day that nature makes its own key change, from the minor key of winter, to the major key of spring. It’s easy to imagine in your mind’s ear a harp glissando as you breathe in the spring and exhale the winter.

Of course, just like a TV comedy series, there will be a new episode of mayhem right around the corner. But at least we know we can listen for the music. And our Narrator’s voice can be heard any time we listen. Grace notes are written into the music scores of our lives. I’ve learned that actual grace notes in a musical score can be considered optional. The conductor or musician decides on whether they’re played. For me, when applied to the music scores of our lives, they are required playing. When it comes to grace, I do not want to miss a note.


  1. Your wisdom always expressed in poetic beauty. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Than you Karen! I appreciate your kind words.

  2. Well stated. God's grace is evident in your well worded piece. Thanks!

  3. Well stated. God's grace is evident in your well worded piece. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Yvonne! I am humbled by your gracious words.

  4. A beautiful realization of Gods grace in our lives. He truly does write the song, with all of its emotions. We just need to be watchful and aware or his hand in all things.
    ~Jan S.