Life with Headphones On: Hearing What you Never Knew Was There

It is amazing what you can hear when you really, really listen.

My brother Allen enjoys and selects his music like a connoisseur enjoys a

My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.
My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.

good bottle of wine; dissecting sounds, instruments, techniques and influences. Unless you do the same, you have probably not heard of Animal Collective, Boards of Canada, or 90% of the other bands he listens to.

Many, like me, simply listen to the music on the radio. Allen will hear a random song he likes, find out the band, then purchase their music. If he really likes it, he will begin reading about the band and who inspired them. “What other bands influenced them?” is a question he is always asking. And since he has been enjoying music like that for many years, he has gone back from one level of influence to another to discover the pioneers of various styles of music.

Recently we were running errands together and he played a song from his Ipod on the stereo in his car. We listened to a few other songs by the same artist as we went to a couple of stores and then made our way back home.

When we got back, he pulled out his very nice V-Moda headphones and said, “Now listen to the same song on these.”

I sat down, put them on, and began to listen. At first, my eyes got big. There was so much to be heard, my mind couldn’t take it all in. I noticed my eyes were looking back and forth, like they could actually find the source of the many layers of instruments; instruments I hadn’t even known were playing when I listened to the exact same song in the car.

For four minutes and thirty-two seconds, I was transfixed. Then, when it was over, I still sat there for a while in an attempt to process all of the input my brain had just been exposed to. I stood up and simply said, “Wow!”

We process the vast amount of what goes on in our lives like we listen to music on the radio. We hear or experience something, and we like it or don’t like it. We keep going down the same road based on this preference or lack thereof and keep moving on, often taking little time to truly process what we experience.

We experience hurt and pain, exhaustion and depression…joy, love, passion and apathy. The stimuli are people, events, challenges and even the weather. Each one tossing us around emotionally like a rudderless ship on sometimes calm, but sometimes very turbulent seas.

Life is seldom dull. It is seldom easy, either. Especially not for long.Music Director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 2011 European Tour

Believe it or not, in the midst of all the chaos, an entire symphony is playing in the background of our lives. As we drive to work, sit in boring meetings, eat our breakfast…it is constantly performing, its beautiful notes and harmonies practically begging for an audience. Heard or unheard, the symphony plays on.

There is, however, only one way to hear these instruments that are drowned out by our daily lives. Silence. You must do for yourself what headphones do for your ears and block out any and all external noises and distractions and simply listen.

At first you may hear nothing, because your world is silent, but your mind is not. It is still rambling on about how you need to pack your gym bag so you can work out this afternoon. If you have a pen and paper handy and write that down, your mind no longer feels the need to think about it, so it is gone. Do so with the other things that come to mind and eventually even your mind can experience silence.

That is when the first notes become audible. The tune will likely sound somewhat familiar, since you’ve caught glimpses of it from time to time, without ever realizing its source.

Soon, more and more instruments break their silence and an entire symphony is playing. But it is not playing for your entertainment. It is playing because it IS. It exists at all times, whether or not you ever take the time to notice. It is a mysterious combination of your deepest thoughts, your deepest feelings (including the ones you try so hard to suppress), your own mind’s analyses, and most importantly, the quiet whispers of a loving God.

All of these sources are not simply conveying information. They are intercommunicating in a complicated, yet beautiful, musical piece. As you allow yourself to think your deepest thoughts and feel your deepest feelings, God not only hears them, but also speaks into them, often giving them new meaning, new significance.

Something from your past that you don’t even like to think about comes to mind, and with it the pain it always brings. This time, however, you don’t retreat from it. You allow yourself to hurt and acknowledge the wrong that was done to you.

As the initial swell of pain begins to subside something new emerges. On the other side of the pain, a kind voice speaks to you and reveal the mysteries behind that event. As He brings to light the glorious blessings that would have never come to pass in your life and others’ otherwise, He almost magically transforms that time of intense pain into a source of deep and lasting joy.

A part of the song that sounds much like the source of daily stress that eats at you comes to the fore, and at first you start to get up and turn off that dreadful tune. But you stop yourself. You force yourself to sit and listen to a collection of minor notes and clashing chords. It hurts your ears at first and it is more cacophony than harmony.

But as your peace returns, you begin to make sense of the song, and almost enjoy it. A flash of insight comes! For the first time, you clearly perceive the source of this internal conflict, and even better, what you can do to alleviate it.

When you feel the musicians are done performing, and get up from your chair, you will notice a difference. As you go through your day, some may think you seem distracted a bit more than usual; less affected, somehow, by the frantic goings on around you. And in a rare quiet moment at the office, someone will look over and see you looking very intently at something, follow your gaze, and find nothing at the end of it to justify such a stare.

“What is he looking at?!”

No, not looking. Listening.

 

 

 

 

Reflections from the Waiting Room

My wife, Nicole, and I are currently sitting in a surgery center waiting room. Operating RoomOur beautiful daughter, Chandler, who turned 3 six days ago, was just put to sleep for minor surgery.

Our explanation to her consisted of “we’re going to get your teeth fixed so they don’t hurt anymore”. That made sense to her, and she happily followed us back to a room full of metal beds and strangers wearing funny hats. However, when it came to taking a small dose of pink medicine, Nicole had to lay her down, pin her arms and use a syringe to make her swallow it.

All Chandler was aware of at the moment when her own mommy was pinning her down, was that the medicine she was being forced to take tasted “yucky”. She had no idea why she needed the medicine, and if given the explanation, then the option of whether or not to take the medicine, she would have still rejected it.

Chandler turned 3 on February 12 and there is no way that Chandler could understand that her chipped and aching tooth is only what she can see on the surface. The x-rays told a far worse story. All four of her top front teeth were in desperate need of capping, as were some others in the back. If action wasn’t taken very soon, the pain would have only gotten much worse.

I did not want to leave my still conscious 3 year-old princess in the hands of those strange men; knowing they would put a gas mask on her, knock her out, insert an IV, force a breathing tube up her nose and into her lungs, and then grind away at her tiny teeth. I did not want to allow that one bit. But I knew if I didn’t, she would suffer far more pain in the long run.

I have been a father for five and a half years, and I understand now, far better than ever, why the Bible constantly compares God’s relationship with us to ours with our own children. The parallels are seemingly endless.

My princess Chandler, with her Nanny Cee Cee at the beach.
My princess Chandler, with her Nanny Cee Cee at the beach.

God takes no pleasure, whatsoever, in any of the trials or suffering that you or I have to go through. If I enjoyed watching my Chandler suffer, you would call me sick and demented, and rightly so. Why then do we entertain the thought that God might enjoy or even be indifferent to our suffering. Remember, He is not the flawed father. I am.

However, our issue is really not so much that we think He is indifferent to our suffering, but rather that we tend to forget that He places a much higher value on certain areas of growth than we do.

Unfortunately, the currencies of this world often undervalue certain character traits that from heaven’s view are literally priceless.

We were willing to allow Chandler to suffer physically for a short time so she could avoid far greater pain in the future. But there are actually worse things than physical suffering. From God’s perspective, the presence of traits that will have eternal ramifications, such as humility, integrity, holiness, patience, etc. are more important than the absence of physical or psychological pain, which is temporal.

I wanted to cry as I thought of what they were going to do to Chandler, but I didn’t, because I knew it was actually a blessing, albeit a veiled one. Don’t ever forget that it truly breaks God’s heart to see us suffer. But when it comes to the most important things in our lives, our Father does indeed know what is best.

The Uninvited Guest

She knew exactly what she was…and hated herself for it.Middle Eastern Woman 2

Most people slip up sometimes and do things they regret. Her life was centered around enticing men at their lowest to go even lower. Few, after spending time with her, could sleep soundly at night. Instead, they toss and turn, wondering if others will find out.

She had some regulars, but most of her clients were complete strangers. Shame was her only consistent companion.

Last week, she was walking the streets in the afternoon and came upon a crowd. They were all looking in the same direction. She could hear gasps and see wide eyes. Typically, she avoided crowds, but her curiosity drew her closer.

She neared the crowd, then began pushing  her way through. As soon as people saw her, they grimaced and sneered. The crowd parted as she walked on, to avoid contact with someone so vile. That used to bother her; she would feel hurt. Now she was just numb.Middle eastern woman

Silence swept through the crowd as she approached the spectacle. Then she saw Him. He looked over his shoulder and into her eyes…into her soul…and smiled.

It was an innocent, loving, and kind smile. A smile unlike any she had seen in years. It was so unexpected that she didn’t even notice what He was doing.

His arm was outstretched towards the one person in town who was treated worse than she was. Now it was her time to gasp, as she realized His hand was actually touching the leper!

But the leper didn’t look like a leper anymore. He looked…normal!

Her thoughts were reeling. “I have seen that leper since I was an innocent child and have no idea what his name is. Nobody does. Nobody cared. Until now.”

She stumbled as she tried to take it all in. The crowd was soon left behind her as she walked the streets for the rest of the day; not looking for work, but trying to make sense of what she had seen. But she just couldn’t.

“He possessed the power to heal a leper, and the mercy to touch him. And…he smiled at me.”

She didn’t work that night, or the night after that. How could she?

If only she could see him again; tell him thank you; honor him the way he deserved to be honored; say “I’m sorry”.

She didn’t know why, but for some reason she felt like every bad thing she had done, every temptation yielded to, every one in some way dishonored Him…wounded Him, even.

After another restless night’s sleep, she started roaming the town again and heard rumors…Jesus was coming! Without the ability to engage people directly, she had to eavesdrop around town to get more details.

He was coming to Simon the Pharisee’s house, tomorrow!

Excitement filled her heart, but it was immediately replaced by panic.

“I have to see Him, but there is no way they will let me in to a gathering of such holy people. What will I say?!”

But she was determined! No matter what it took, she would see Jesus.

Sleep evaded her that night as she tried to think of the right words. Somehow, nothing seemed appropriate. She had to say something!

“I know! I will give him a gift!”

She searched her small home and spotted her most prized possession…an alabaster jar full of ointment. It was the only thing she owned that was worthy of Him.

The morning finally came, and she dressed herself more modestly than usual. As the time for the meeting drew near, she was almost running through the city streets towards Simon’s house.

It loomed large and imposing in the distance, in a part of town she had rarely seen.As she got close, she could see that the courtyard was still open!

Her nerves caused her to stop just outside of Simon’s house. But she closed her eyes tight to build up the nerve to barge into the house of someone who would be furious at her intrusion.

As she walked in, everybody in the room turned and looked at her with scorn. Everyone, except Jesus.

He looked at her and everything else was instantly drowned out. He looked into her eyes. He knew…everything. How?! She had no idea. But it was true.

He was looking at every single page of her life…all the horrible, lurid details. She kept expecting Him to turn away in disgust. He did the exact opposite. He forgave her! He hadn’t said a word, but she could see it in his eyes.

She instantly knew no words would be appropriate as she knelt at His feet and began weeping. As each tear fell, she could feel her load lifting. A burden she had been carrying for decades was being taken from her.

She started wiping His feet with her hair, smearing the tears in the dust. Then she brought out her most prized possession and began pouring it on His feet. She had no idea that anyone was speaking around her, much less that they were talking about her. It wouldn’t have mattered.

Then she heard Him speak for the first time…only four words, but four words that would completely change her life. “Your sins are forgiven.”

Now it was her turn to gasp as her burden was completely lifted from her.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace”

She stood up to leave and could feel a difference. She no longer stooped with the weight of her past. She felt lighter. There was something that she felt, as well…something new.

“This must be…joy.”

She slowly walked away, and those outside did not recognize the new woman who walked out of Simon’s house.

How They Get There

I helped a 33 year-old man create the first resume of his life today.Life the Fallen

He has been in jail a few times, done a lot of drugs; taken the typical path that leads to homelessness.

“My dad was a church deacon,” he said. “But he was also an emotional terrorist.”

“He used to tell me that I was God’s punishment on him for all of the bad things he had done.”

“He beat me too, of course. The last time he laid his hands on me were when I was 14. The things he used to do were…horrible. I’ve talked to him maybe three times since.”

It’s easy to look down on people like him…until you learn how they got there.

His expression as we printed off his resume will stick with me for a long time. He was genuinely proud. An expression I doubt he displays often.

“Can we get something nice to put it in?! Some kind of folder or something?”

“You bet!” I said and walked over to grab him a nice new manilla envelope.

He put the resume in the folder and said, “Perfect!”

Walking out the door, he smiled and thanked me.

I got more out of it than he did. I guarantee it. And all it took was 45 minutes of my time from start to finish.

It’s pretty easy to be a blessing to a person who has lived most of his life on the threshold of hell. A little common decency, some smiles and kind words will put a smile on his face.

But if you genuinely, deeply care for him…now that will blow him away.

I think I’ll do it again next week.

Sit With Me

If a world leader you really respected and admired invited you to coffee one morning, would you go? I think I know that answer to that one.

What if he wanted to get together quite regularly? Not with an ulterior motive, but simply due to a somewhat perplexing interest in what is going on in your life.Man sitting

There would of course be ample opportunities for him to share bits of wisdom with you. It would be a disappointment if he didn’t. He has lived a very rich life, ranging from that of a homeless man to the powerful individual that sits before you. In fact, it’s quite odd that he would have time for you in the first place. Major world events are influenced by this man and far more important people than you are in need of him. Without his leadership everything just seems to falls apart.

After you meet a few times, you begin to notice patterns. He can be a bit silent at times, but the look in his eyes always lets you know that you have his full, undivided attention. How can someone look so supremely confident, yet at the same time humbly empathetic, as if he has been in your exact circumstance? He always shows up, is never late, never bores of hearing of your cares and challenges (how I will never know) and offers up the precise bit of wisdom you need in your time of desperation.

Oddly, every time you arrive, you find he has preceded you to your favorite meeting place. There he sits, patiently, as if he has nothing more important to do. You’ve tried arriving early to see if you can beat him there, but have never managed to do so. And then you sit and start unloading all of life’s burdens, struggles and joys that clutter your mind throughout the day. His eyes never leave yours.

Then, as you draw to a close He leans in and quietly gives you words of encouragement and challenges you to offer up your best, because people are depending on you too. And just before you get up to leave, He reaches over to place a reassuring hand on your knee. You can’t help but notice the scar. From an age-old injury, He once told you. One that reminds you both how much you truly mean to him.

“Shall I see you again tomorrow morning?” He asks.