Counting the Cost

I’m currently watching the Olympics as I try to recover from my most recent injury–an injury that is now becoming normal. In the past four weeks, I have dislocated my left shoulder three times. The causes of these dislocations include leaning over to pull a cord, lifting sheets of paper, and waking up. So in other words, rugby is not a hobby I should take up.

Speaking of hobbies, playing flute and piano is pretty difficult when your shoulder is out of socket. Or even after it’s back in. Because my tendons are overstretched, my muscles are also affected, making it pretty much impossible to hold a flute. Piano will not be impossible to play, but there is no way, realistically speaking, that I can play at the same level I did last semester.

Which brings me to the title of this post: “Counting the Cost.” I don’t typically use this phrase to refer to decisions I make for my well-being, but it’s certainly a concept I’m familiar with. Every potential activity requires an assessment when I “count the cost;” either I can do this activity and spend more time with people, or I can do what I need to do to take care of myself so I can spend less time with people at optimal functioning.

With my latest phenomenon of shoulder dislocations, it’s time to count the cost of continuing my music degree.

As I’ve thought about how big of an adjustment that a change of major would be, I’ve reflected on the wonderful experiences I’ve had as a music major.

One of the biggest contributors to my improvement was a masterclass in which I demonstrated that I had no idea what I was doing. But afterwards, I knew what I wanted to sound like, and I was driven by a specific goal.

One of the biggest confidence-boosters I experienced was the repetition of the direction, “Play louder, Emily,” during my solos in ensemble rehearsals. Although I was frustrated at myself for not being where my professors wanted me to be, I was, and still am, grateful that they saw more potential in me than I did.

One of my favorite performance memories was having to wait on the Secret Service dogs to search our instruments on stage before a prelude performance to Laura Bush. I felt like a pretty big deal.

One of my favorite comments I received from both my flute and piano teachers is that I made the flute sound masculine, and I played piano like a man. It made me feel like I’m more than a twig.

One of my easiest classes was a class based on ear training. Thanks to the Lord’s gift of perfect pitch, I made a 100 in the class without any extra credit. Let’s just all take a moment to acknowledge that this will never happen again in my educational experience.

One of my hardest classes was a class based on piano improvisation. The assignments that were the easiest to everyone else were actually the hardest to me. I realized how much I rely on having an explicit plan for everything. But I think that the uncomfortable situations in the class helped eliminate the fear of unprepared performances for the rest of my life.

One of the best lessons I learned was how to manage time. I became an expert on determining what I can accomplish in my 23.5 minutes between classes. I learned how to plan ahead like never before.

One of the most rewarding experiences to my hard work was walking by a practice room and hearing other music majors practicing their parts for pieces I had written. It was incredibly satisfying to hear others try to understand what had gone on in my head during the composition process.

One of my favorite ways to interact with other music majors was simply by going to the tech lab. A lot of things happen in that lab: doing homework, talking about doing homework, watching YouTube videos to procrastinate doing homework, crying about the culmination of assignments because we were busy watching YouTube videos. But no matter we did or didn’t do, there was always a sense of community.

At the same time, a “church answer” I never implemented into my life was giving God the glory after a performance. Even though I knew that I can do nothing without Him, I still didn’t think He deserved the credit for performing pieces that I spent hours upon hours practicing. Watching so many Olympians in the past week give glory to God has made me feel guilty that I never did the same.

As I reflect on the past two years of my life, I have to count the cost: Is creating more memories, that may or may not compete with the memories I already have, worth further injuring myself? If I feel like God is calling me to full-time ministry, how much longer should I keep pursuing a dream that will end up hurting me, short-term and long-term? What’s the purpose of being goal-oriented if my goals keep me from giving God the glory He deserves?

The funny thing about my condition is that I’m overly flexible. And “flexible” is exactly what I have to be, in regards to my future. I’m not a quitter; I’m an adjuster. My mind doesn’t keep changing; my connective tissue keeps changing.

As a result, I’ve decided to change to a Religion major with a Music minor. Although I obviously would have loved to continue my music degree, I am equally excited about what the Lord has to teach me in the Religion department.

If my identity was solely found in my abilities, then my current condition would cripple me beyond physical means. On the other hand, if my identity was solely found in my disabilities, the same result would occur. Praise the Lord for the new identity He gave me with the gift of salvation!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Just as I counted the cost of following my dreams, I must continue to count the cost of following Jesus. In Luke 14, Jesus addresses the crowd and declares, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In order to follow Christ, I have to give up my identity as a musician, and as a victim of chronic pain, to receive my new identity as a child of God. After counting the cost of following Jesus, I share the response of Peter: “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life” (John 6:68 CEV).

Paul, in the book of Philippians, expresses similar desires in knowing Christ.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”

Philippians 3:7-14, 20-21 (ESV)

I’ve counted up the cost, and now I press on. For His words that give everlasting life are worth more to me than a music degree. More than a predictable future. More than my own life, for He has made me His own. Rather than waiting for my own plans to come about, I await a Savior Who has a better plan for healing than I could ever imagine. I wait for Him, Who will, one day, make my body perfect and complete like His own.

Thanksgiving is About You

“Everything” is an all-encompassing word: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Easier said than done, right?

Perhaps the least difficult time to thank God is when life is less difficult. Thanksgiving flows most naturally from the heart when life is good. Slightly more challenging is the decision to thank God for painful circumstances. But, with an eternal sense of purpose, believers can be grateful for the way God moves in their lives. Personally, I struggle the most with gratitude for things I don’t like about myself.

Probably the most obvious form of insecurity is body image. The comparison game between different-looking people points out what exactly we don’t like about our appearances. I myself can name several things I would like to change about my appearance. But is appearance really what defines our worth? According to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, certainly not!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

19 Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.

Our worth is not our own; our worth was bought at the price of Jesus’ life. As believers, our bodies are the places that the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell (2 Corinthians 6:16). The beauty of God permeates into our own lives when God Himself chooses to live in temporary human bodies.

Another common insecurity is evident in self-doubt. When people lose faith in their God-given abilities,–and forget that they are given by God–they become engulfed by feelings of incompetence. Again, the comparison game also becomes dangerous when we try to out-do others’ talents, positions, or even ministries. A dislike towards one’s incapabilities leaves a sense of emptiness in purpose, which only God can determine.

2 Corinthians 3:4-5

We have this kind of confidence toward God through Christ. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our competence is from God.

Measuring ourselves to man-made standards will cause us to fall short each time. But living according to God’s will and with God’s competence always brings success that surpasses worldly definitions.

Because this blog is written to explain the lessons God has taught me through physical pain, I’ll close by trying to be thankful for my imperfect health. I don’t like the fact that I need to sit down more than others do. I don’t like the fact that I sometimes walk with a limp. I don’t like the fact that sharp pain often interrupts my thought process. But I should learn to thank God for carefully creating me exactly as I am.

Psalm 139:13-15

13 For it was You who created my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You
because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful,
and I know this very well.
15 My bones were not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.

God, You knew exactly what You were doing when You made me. Nothing about the way I was created was an accident; You see all that You have made and call it good. Help me to see Your divine creativity in creating my imperfect body.

Thanksgiving is a season of gratefulness to God, but thanksgiving is dependent on us. We determine how we view our lives. Our attitude towards ourselves is sometimes the only thing that can be changed, since God’s goodness in our lives never fails. Thanksgiving is about our perspective towards the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives.

As Thanksgiving approaches and we admit our gratitude for people we love, let us not forget to thank God for that which we see as repulsive in our lives. Let us remember how we are treasured in His eyes.