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The Christmas Keys

My hands delicately touched the ivory keys. In reverent solace, I took a deep breath as I sat in the darkness of this unfamiliar house. Slowly, I began to let my fingers flow with the emotions I was feeling. It had been months since I had sat at a piano. But this piano was nothing like the one I had known before: this piano was a perfectly tuned Baby Grand, worth thousands of dollars. The piano I had know - my piano - was an old out of tune spinet that I had purchased at a yard sale for $50. And in that moment, as my fingers danced across the meticulously cared for ivory, I realized how deeply I missed my old out-of-tune friend.

It was a feeling that came unexpectedly, this grief. It startled me. So, I quickly stuffed it down inside of myself and shook it off as nonsensical. But as warm tears began streaming down my cheeks while I played this Grand, I soon realized that this was an emotion I could no longer deny: I was grieving the loss of my piano.

The loss of my piano had come as unexpectedly as my emotions had just come. Months before, my husband and I had suddenly lost our jobs, both of us working for the same employer. To make matters even more difficult, this employer provided housing for us. We were thrown into a life-changing scenario unawares that required us to move and uproot rapidly. I was devastated and so was my husband. But we didn't have time to cry or complain: we had to figure out what to do. So, we buckled down emotionally, packed our sorrow away for another day, and began to pack all of our belongings into cardboard boxes, literally having no idea where we were headed. Thankfully, a new friend stepped in and offered us housing in the interim, even offering his assistance in loading our moving truck. As I watched box after box being loaded onto the Budget truck, burdening the vehicle with increasing weight, the burden of my heart grew heavier, too. I grieved as I watched my husband struggling under the weight of more than just bulky furniture. I knew what I was feeling and I wanted to make this horrible situation as easy on him as possible. That's why when he came to move my cumbersome spinet, I told him just to leave it. Hesitantly, he stared at me and asked, "Are you sure?" I lightly scoffed, assuring him that it was falling apart and wasn't worth him breaking his back over. I would call Salvation Army, I explained. They can break their backs loading it up. So, we packed up the last of our belongings on to the truck, locked the door, and said goodbye to the inconsequential instrument I had known for so long.

That was February. Now it was October. I sat at that Baby Grand in the third person's house I had lived in since the day the Budget truck pulled away. It had been an emotionally trying 9 months. We had desperately sought God's will, applying for various jobs all over the nation, trying to discover where our next home would be. For  months, I threw myself into looking for employment and prayer, keeping the loss of such a small thing as a piano in perspective: in the grand scheme of things, it was simply not important...or so I had tried to convince myself. But with salty tears anointing my lips, now I knew nothing could be further from the truth.

I had had that old,extremely flawed piano for 12 years. I had really learned how to play on that thing. I had written my first song on those out of tune keys and many, many more had followed. But my grieving went beyond the song writing and into the essence of how those songs were written: in worship. You see, in every season of life, I had sat there and sang my heart song to the Lord. In good times, in bad times, in sorrow, and mirth, that piano was the secret place to which I came. I grieved now without it, because that piano was my altar - an altar that I had poured out my drink offering of tears on time and time again. I had left more than just a piano in that hollow house in February - I had left my Ebenezer ( 1 Samuel 7:12).

So, I let myself grieve that day at the truly grand piano. I let the tears flow. I let the wailing commence. I grieved the loss of one of my dearest friends. In just 2 more months, I would be signing the papers on my new home, enjoying my new job in this new town. But, for now - I let the past and all that I had lost be remembered. I let God unpack the pain from my heart and felt his tender whisper remind me that this grieving wasn't foolish at all - it was necessary to my healing. For this had been a difficult year; with the loss of a job, the loss of relationships, the loss of security and trust, I needed the healing that only unbridled tears could bring in order for my heart to be truly found again. And so that day, I let the Grand accompany the melody of my grief and allowed my heart to stand at the graveside of the losses I had known that year, none greater than my piano-turned-altar that I had left behind.

That day at the piano, I received something very powerful: permission to mourn. God gave me full permission to let that hurt in my heart be exposed where I least expected to find it. But I also knew that God promised to turn that melancholy music into rejoicing resonance as I let Him play His song on my heart. And as the calendar revealed the last month of this most difficult year, I found myself with the keys to my new home in my hand and my grief was swallowed in joy. The year that had begun with unexpected loss was ending in unexpected blessings - new jobs for my husband and I, a new home to call our own, and a fresh new start altogether. Everything had come full circle...everything, that is, except the restoration of my piano.

As we moved our furniture into our new home and I slowly took in the view of my gorgeous, expansive living room, I felt the sting of grief return to my heart. That living room wall was missing something: my broken down spinet. It would have been perfect right there. Sighing, I reluctantly told my husband how I wished now that I had not left my piano behind. After the "I told you so's" and "why didn't you say something's" had ceased, I told him what God had revealed to me 2 months ago that day at the Baby Grand: that the old busted up, unfriendly sounding piano was my altar, my place of remembrance, and I greatly missed its presence in my life. Putting his arm around me, my husband squeezed me tight. With tears streaming down my cheeks again, I leaned into his strength and gathered up my breath. Turning to him after a moment, I confessed that it was a new season - I would find a new piano. That was that. I had boxes to unpack and a home to decorate. Today was not a day to weep, but to rejoice! But as I unpacked and uncluttered and unmourned my new life, that empty wall served as a reminder that something was missing.

A couple weeks passed and almost all the boxes were emptied. The furniture was arranged and the Christmas decorations were in place. It was almost Christmas, after all. I had much to do as the holiday approached - presents to buy, sweets to bake, and children's church programs to direct, not to mention all the organizing of closets and drawers and other nooks and crannies of my new home. Working an 8-5 job made it a bit challenging to get it all done, but God's grace was making it possible. As I came home from work the week before Christmas, I went straight to working on the house - something I had been doing for weeks now. As I threw another empty box onto the pile of boxes to be thrown out, I was moved with mercy for my husband. It was usually his job to take out the trash, but why should I leave this all for him to do when he gets home? So, I loaded up my arms with cardboard and proceeded to make my way to the dumpster in the ally behind our house. As I emptied my load, I strolled back into the yard and shut the gate behind me. As I turned around, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks: there - sitting up against the back of my house- was an old worn out spinet. I stood motionless, a thousand thoughts running through my mind: Is that my old piano? Where did it come from? Who knew that I wanted one? Why was it back here? Slowly, I inched my way over to the instrument. I stared in wonder: it looked so much like my old friend. With great anticipation, I opened the cover to the keys and delicately touched a single key. The sound was a familiar warmth that caused me to close my eyes. I drew my hands up to my mouth in wondrous satisfaction. It was out of tune. Just like I liked it.

Anxious excitement began to tingle through me and I quickly ran back into the house. My husband would be home any minute and I could not wait to see him! I flew outside to the front yard and paced back and forth, anxiously awaiting his arrival home. I jumped while I waited. I muffled thrilled screams. I rejoiced and let my heart race as I watched his car finally pull into our drive way. Standing there in the cold, I waited for my husband to get out of his vehicle. A smile was on his face as he stepped out and said to me with eye brows raised, "You found it, didn't you?" I jumped up and down and threw myself into his arms. "You did this!" I cried. "You did this for me." Over and over, I thanked him, saying, "You have no idea what you have done for me. You really have no idea what you've done." In between cheers and teary eyes, I mingled my thanks to my husband with my thanks to God. What a year it had been. Many months before, I had stood on a driveway and watched my life get stuffed into a Budget truck and said a grave-side goodbye to the altar I had come to love. Now, I stood on the driveway of my brand new home where the dusty boxes of my heart had been unpacked, down to the smallest, seemingly most insignificant package.

 You see, what my husband did for me that day was about so much more than a piano: it was about restoration. That $50 beat-up piano was God's priceless reminder that He makes all things new. God used my husband's precious gift as a revelation that God genuinely cares about the desires of my heart.  What I had stuffed down and written off as unimportant, God had brought to the surface by declaring it important to Him, because He knew -  it really was important to me. I had thought that a cheap piano was insignificant when compared to needing basic necessities like income, food, and shelter. But from the moment I sat at that Baby Grand and allowed my grief to be revealed, God was showing me that what matters to me really does matter to Him. He is an extremely good Father.

So, this year really had come full circle. God had restored to me, not only what I needed, but also what I treasured. Through my husband's loving kindness, I had more than a piece of furniture to put on that empty wall space in the Living Room: I had my Ebenezer raised up again. The altar that had been lost through startling sorrow was once again tangible, palpable, and playable. Once again, my secret place was found beside the creaking, wonderfully disagreeable sounds of an aged, bought-for-a song piano.

My piano.  My exquisitely perfect piano.

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