My mother played the piano. Most people who know her well, know this. She played the piano and organ in church for many years. She taught piano lessons and still teaches to this day. Long before I began singing, I played the saxophone. Most people don’t know this. I played up until I was a Junior in High School. At that point, I made a decision to forsake the saxophone and dedicate myself full time to sports and athletics. That decision served me well, as it gave me an athletic scholarship to help pay my way through college. I was also able to make a living at it for a while out of college.
But the decision to lay down my saxophone (and the piano) is one I still regret to this day. I wish I had found a way to merge the two together without sacrificing either. It could have been done. Nonetheless, unbeknownst to me at the time, my days of playing the saxophone and doing music as a child would open many doors and set up platforms that I still use to this day.
When I was an early teen, my mother would drag me around to nursing homes in Charlotte, NC during the Christmas Season. I use the word “drag” because the first time we went, I really didn’t have much of a choice, and I didn’t want to go. But the more we went, the more I loved to do it and longed for it, even though I wouldn’t admit it publicly at the time.
At this time of my life, I was tumbling my way through adolescence and trying to discover who I was, and who I would be as an adult in the making. I was the prototype: the brown “Members Only” jacket, the soft white Reebok shoes, and beautiful blonde hair…feathered and parted perfectly down the middle. Thank you Hair Spray! Yes, it’s true, I had a beautiful, full head of hair once.
In this stage of my life’s journey, being cool was way more important than being selfless and impactful. Left to myself, that is where I would have drifted. Thankfully, my mom didn’t see it that way, and she wouldn’t let me stay there.
So every December, when Christmas would make its way into the intersection of our lives, bringing its joy and wonder, we would get in the car and make our way to the nursing home in Charlotte, NC. There was a saxophone case in the back seat, Christmas music books in the front seat, and a tightly, but carefully packed Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer suit in the trunk.
Into the nursing home we would stroll, my mother striding, and walking confidently and joyfully, and me behind her trying to hide from the moment, carrying my saxophone case in one hand, and the reindeer suit in the other. All of the nursing home patients would begin to appear from their dark and lonely rooms ever so slowly. The mere presence of anyone from the outside would call them to attention to see what was going on. It was always a treat for them to get anyone on the outside who would show them any amount of interest, so it was never difficult to get an audience.
Some were using walkers, many were in wheelchairs, and others used canes. Many were struggling or recovering from some type of life-altering tragedy that brought trauma to their already frail bodies. Some could communicate with us, some could not. But my mom would engage them in a way that made them feel like it was the highlight of her day, and as if this were about to be the most joyful moment they had ever experienced. She poured her love on to them and made them feel like they mattered. I did my best to follow suit, but I always felt out of place.
She sat down at the piano and opened up the books from which we practiced at home. I lifted my saxophone to my mouth, and she would accompany me as we played Christmas songs for them. In the meantime, my sister was in the back, putting on the reindeer suit and preparing to come out. Our songs would lift into the air, and as soon as they did, the atmosphere would change. All of a sudden, the dreary halls of that nursing home would be lifted with joy and wonder. Smiles would stretch across faces. When we were done, the residents would stick out their hands, longing for someone to touch them. My mom would go directly to them. And of course, there was no way for me to escape that moment either. We played Christmas songs for them, we sang with them, we touched them, we laughed with them, and we all got caught up in the wonder together.
Each time we did this, something broke off inside of me. It was a good kind of breaking. My stoic exterior was lifting and I began to care more about impact than impression. My heart softened. Strangely, I felt completely comfortable in these moments, almost as if I was made for it. Music, art, creativity…all of these things the Lord had laid in me from birth, were now taking shape and form. It was a strange phenomenon to me. I was using music, art, and creativity as a platform to share the love of God with others, and every single bit of it felt right and natural to me. It was almost as if I was made for this very thing.
The truth is, my mother only dragged me to those nursing homes once. All the other times were different. I was a willing participant. Once I discovered this passion, and once it was lit in me, I always wanted to go back, and I looked forward to it each year. I was at home, doing what I felt like I had been called to do. The only audience we had was about 20-30 nursing home residents that the rest of the world had seemingly forgotten. But it didn’t matter. I was at home. Those moments forged, worked, and shaped who I am today. I am most at home when I am using art and creativity to share the love of God with others.
Lord willing, the next two weekends, I’ll have the humbling opportunity to share the love of God with others from a different platform called Christmas In The City. This time I’ll be singing, dancing, acting, along with a few other things. We’ll all get caught up in the wonder together. It is the place I feel most at home…using art and creativity to display the hope of the Gospel. This audience will be hundreds. But it really makes no difference how big or small the platform or the stage. The passion remains the same for me.
We all have something God puts inside of us to use in order to impact, serve, and encourage other people, and bring glory to God. Wherever your passions lie, don't resist them. Embrace them and run toward them. Use your gifts and don't let them sit on a shelf.
Perhaps you can't identify your gifts. At one time, I couldn't either. I even resisted them. The one thing I was trying to escape and felt I was being dragged into, ended up being the thing I love most. If there's an opportunity to serve, take it. Even if it doesn't seem appealing. It could be that just around the corner of "undesirable" lies your greatest passion. It's funny how God works that way. At the very least, I can promise you that no matter what you do, there are always broken people on the other side of your service who need your encouragement.
Each and every Christmas Season, if I am blessed to have a platform of any kind to share with others, I always think back to those moments from so many years ago. An old car heading down Providence Road from Waxhaw to Charlotte, filled with my mom, my sister and I, along with a bunch of old Christmas music books, a saxophone case, and a reindeer suit. A crowd of forgotten, frail senior citizens, around the piano of an old nursing home. Songs, hugs, laughter, joy, an atmosphere and people who were changed. O the wonder of it all! This is where it began. Thank you for dragging me out mom.