Blessed Beyond Measure

As the semester draws to a close, the holiday season is in full swing, and the new year is fast approaching, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect and share a bit of what I learned this semester.

I’m sitting in my tiny little apartment which, after the past 3.5 months, truly feels like home – I have a little rosemary bush with Christmas garland on it sitting on my coffee table, there is a Christmas-scented candle burning, and white Christmas lights hanging on the wall beside me. The world outside my window is dark…the stars dancing silently across the sky. But my heart is full of light and life. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t completely exhausted. And yes, I am ready to go home and cuddle with my 2 pups, hug my best friend, and see my parents, my church family, and participate in new holiday traditions with loved ones.

 

But the truth is that I never thought I would make it here. I don’t just mean that I never thought I would make it here to Michigan and be living this life full of music, pursing my dreams, etc. I never thought I would make it here – to Michigan, but also to this point in my life. Two years ago, it was looking like that might be my last holiday season – I was so dreadfully ill and I had almost no hope in finding my way out of the mess and sickness consuming me. I never thought that I would make it past 19 years old. I never thought I’d be able to attend school again. I never thought I’d be playing music, surrounded by passionate students and teachers. I never thought I would live on my own – and especially not 11 hours away from home.

Somehow I transformed from being deathly ill with no hope of ever getting better, to being VERY much alive, full of life, and zealous in the pursuit of things I’m passionate about. It was (it IS) a long process and I’m not convinced it will ever be completed. But all great things take time and I’m famous for being impatient with myself.

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January 2014 above. December 2015 below. Perfect example of God’s mercy and power.12391043_10207721245416720_1310764488397683403_n

God is so, so good to me! His love and forgiveness leave me speechless and as I reflect on the many transformations that have occurred in my life – I am brought to tears by His mercy and power! His blessings abound ALL around me and I am forever thankful that He opened up my eyes and my heart to all the goodness around me. He refueled my love for life and He sustains me daily. His blessings have been particularly evident this past semester with everything I’ve learned.

So, I have a pretty stinking awesome teacher here at Michigan. I have grown significantly as a musician in just the few months I’ve been studying with him! (And I NEVER say stuff like that about myself so, that just shows how much I’ve grown haha). As with everything else in life – there is still work to be done! The process is never finished and that can be extremely overwhelming. But I prefer to look at it as – that’s the beauty of it…there’s no limit to how much you can grow and how much you can learn.

I’m kind of a nerd in that, each lesson I had this semester, I would audio record it and then go back and take notes on it. It actually saves time because then I don’t have to stop to write as much during the actual lesson and we can cover more ground. Like I said, this man has taught me SO much, musically. I could share it all with you, but we would literally be here for hours! I’m more interested in sharing a few of the things he has taught me about life, rather than JUST the musical concepts I’ve learned.

prof halen

Here a few pieces of life advice I’ve received from the man who has quickly become my role model, teacher, and a part of my support system here in Michigan:

1. Everything is changing – we’re working for consistency and there are variables which are constantly evolving and changing. Our ear is the key to helping us constantly juggle our changing environment and maintain some level of consistency.

Now, he was speaking musically, of course. But I got so much more out of what he said than just “adjust your fingers so you play in tune” or “keep your bow over the sounding point when you change strings”. No, this concept is one that is extremely important in our everyday lives. Everything IS changing around us – day in and day out, no two days are the same…not even two minutes will ever be the same. Our ears, eyes, and most importantly – out hearts, are the key to helping us constantly juggle our changing environments. In order to maintain some level of consistency in our every day lives we need something unchanging to rely on. The ONLY thing unchanging in our lives is our Lord, Jesus Christ. His love is unchanging and never ending. People will disappoint us, let us down, we will hurt others, situations will cause heart break and headaches – but through ALL of that, God is there…just waiting for us to look up, get down on our knees, and offer Him a prayer.

In a world with so many variables which we can’t control, we can control one thing – who and what we turn too in both sorrow and joy. That is a decision which only we can make – it’s gotta be Jesus! Every time!

2. “You play who you are!”

Okay, so honestly…this has been a really difficult concept for me to wrap my head around. You play who you are. You play who you are. You play who you are. When I first heard these words, I’m not gonna lie – my initial thoughts were, “Shit. I’m never gonna amount to anything.” But I’ve given it a LOT of thought and gone back and forth in my mind a lot over the past few months and I think there is something deeper to be found in this statement.

You play who you are…I just keep saying it over and over again in my mind. It has the potential to mean so much, and also to mean so many different things to different individuals. No two people live the same lives – not even remotely similar. Even people who have grown up in the same environments, take identical twins, for instance – even they experience emotions, situations, etc differently. Different things carry different weight depending on past life experiences and whatever state of mind a person may be in.

I think it is our JOB to share who we are. The world won’t ever have another you or another me…and we’re here for a reason. We all have something positive and unique to offer the world and using music as an avenue to share our interpretation of life and all it’s crazy ups and downs should be something that we take very seriously. If you let go, if you relax, if you take the chance of being vulnerable – whether you’re performing music or not – the world will have the opportunity to see who you are and to witness how you experience life. I think this is a simultaneously painful and beautiful experience both for the individual and the witness(es).

This phrase is heavy and it holds so much within just 5 small words. Its meaning has the potential to change and grow over time. It is something that has really been carved on my heart and something that I think I will always carry with me.

3. “If you think you sound great, you’re wrong – even if it does sound great!”

I heard this phrase a few times this semester – always said in good nature, of course. And the moral of this statement is short and to the point:

Never settle.
Never get comfortable.
Never stop reaching higher.
Never stop growing.

Everyone possesses untapped potential. Don’t leave it untouched or undiscovered. Don’t settle for “good” when you’re capable of “great”.

4. Ask Questions.

“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”
― Carl Sagan

5. RELAX.

This semester has been the semester of “loosen up”. I don’t know about you…but all of my stress and anxiety that I don’t exert or get rid of in some way, gets stored up in my muscles – especially in my upper body (arms, neck, back, jaw, etc) which isn’t the greatest thing when you’re a musician, or at all, frankly. To be able to witness the difference in my playing when I relax those muscles, has been…honestly (not to be dramatic) life changing, musically speaking. I sound like a completely different musician when I play without tension. And I think life is a lot like that…we all carry a lot of tension around with us, in our bodies and minds, that maybe we don’t necessarily NEED to be carrying.

I counted the number of times I wrote the word “relax” in my lesson journal and it was a staggering 23 times. And I’m sure it was actually voiced to me more than 23 times.

When we take our time as we go through our lives – when we learn to relax and LET GO, we become more capable of feeling positive, healthy feelings. When I relax as I play music my mind instantly focuses on what my ears hear, rather than the anxiety of “OMG WHAT NOTE COMES NEXT AND HOW DO I SHIFT THERE.” I’ve come to realize, through my entire journey of life (although, 21 years is a short time to exist) that on the days I slow down and take a few minutes to relax, my eyes are instantly opened up to all the blessings that surround me. There aren’t words to describe the joy I feel when I become aware of the way God has worked in my life. We weren’t created to “Go-Go-Go” constantly. We were created to relax and take time to notice the abundance of blessings surrounding us.

One thing Professor Halen tells us quite a bit is, “take your time – love each note!” and I think it’s a valuable concept both for musicians, and non-musicians alike. Take your time. Stop and smell the roses. Look up to the sky and see our magnificent God gazing down on us, surrounding us with love day in and day out.

6. If you feel convicted about something, don’t ever give up!

I don’t know what to say aside from this – I am in tears! I am in awe of the God I served who brought me to this point in my life and continues to amaze me each and every day! This time 2 years ago I was on the verge of death. 2014 rolled around and something inside of me clicked. I was going nowhere. I spent my days sleeping and my nights laying awake wishing I could be something or someone more than I was. As I tried to regain my health something changed in my heart as well. With over 40 pounds of additional weight came an unmeasurable thirst for life!

I fought hard to keep my eating disorder. And then I fought hard to get rid of it. I fought hard to learn repertoire to audition at 7 schools and then I fought hard to make it here to Michigan. It was NOT easy and financially, things were up in the air for a long time. The anxiety was crippling, but I truly felt like God was calling me here. As soon as I stepped foot on this campus in the winter of 2015 I felt a pull to be here. It felt like home, instantly. I prayed long and hard, asking for guidance financially and with everything in general.

And here I am…at the end of my first semester here. And let me tell you – to have a teacher who supports my endeavors in all areas of my life – for health, education, music, etc is RARE. And undoubtedly a blessing from God.

I’ve fought long and hard and will continue to fight, knowing that the battle has already been won through Christ, Jesus. What a joy this life is! What a joy to be living in this environment and learning from these teachers and peers. To say that I am blessed is a gross understatement!

Things I’ve learned from other students in my studio:

Stay calm

Have sass

Just go for it

Be humble

Have quiet grace

Style and delivery is everything

Strive for balance.

One thing that I love about my studio is that it’s a safe place to learn. Everyone is friendly, encouraging, uplifting, AND very talented. It takes guts to stand up and perform in front of a crowd, but it’s a little bit safer when you KNOW that the crowd is cheering you on and will support you, no matter the outcome of the performance may be.

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As the new year approaches, I am determined to finish out 2015 in strength and in love! And as 2016 approaches – a year I never dreamed of seeing – my only goals (or as some call them, “New Year’s Resolutions”) are to continue growing and evolving as an individual, a musician and student, and a daughter of Christ.

Here’s to a year of…
Counting blessings, not calories.
Speaking gratitude’s, not complaints.
Learning to love,
Pursuing Jesus more and more,
And a year full of blessing others.

I am growing, I am learning, I am becoming. To God be the glory!

“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it.”
― Veronica Roth

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”
― C. JoyBell C.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson

https://www.stlsymphony.org/en/musicians/orchestra/david-halen/

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