To Boldly Give

I’ll admit it. I’m not the best musician (or writer, or photographer, or painter. . .you name it) in the world. Not even close. But even though I’m not the best at any of those things, I am still an artist.

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I used to worry, to focus only on how I compared to others, how I didn’t measure up. Or else I would feel proud that I was better at playing violin than other people were. It was all about the competition–was I going to be the next Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Sadly, I never practiced enough as a child to make THAT dream come true. And really, even with all the wonderful benefits of playing a musical instrument, who wants to sacrifice their childhood to playing seven hours a day? Only the most dedicated, and I’ve never joined their ranks.

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Random violin picture because what’s prettier than a well-made violin?

So now I’ve given up my dream (if you can call it that) of being the next Itzhak Perlman or Hilary Hahn, standing on stage to thunderous applause after I just finished playing the hardest piece of music ever written for violin. It’s far more practical to stand on stage to thunderous applause for playing something simple, like Silent Night. Fewer heart attacks for all involved.

But even though I’m not the world’s greatest, I’ve learned so much from playing the violin. I’ve always been a quiet, private person, unsure of what or how much to say. Playing the violin, though, has made me aware of what I want to say–and it provides the perfect way to say it.

The most important thing about being given a gift is not whether you’re at the top of the list, the most practiced, the most coherent, the most put-together. The most important thing is to use that gift, to share it with others. You don’t play the piano (or cello, or violin, or saxophone, or clarinet, etc) perfectly? That’s ok. You didn’t write the world’s best-selling novel? That’s ok. You don’t keep your house perfectly clean all the time? That’s ok.

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You can still play your instrument for people: I assure you, they’ll love it! You can still take pride in your writing–it can still bless others. You can still invite people over to your slightly messy house–they’ll still feel welcomed. Having a gift isn’t about having the perfect environment to show it off in, or even the perfect gift to show off. Having a gift is about giving, sharing yourself with others. Don’t let fear stop you–take pride in your gift. Give boldly. You never know who you’ll be blessing.

Confessions of a Failed Minimalist

Well, I suppose you could say I haven’t really failed. My wardrobe really is the “capsule wardrobe” type, since that’s all that would fit in two suitcases. The kitchen stuff I currently own—3 pans, 3 knives, 4 bowls, 8 plates, and some silverware—really isn’t that much. And that’s about it, besides stacks of papers to grade (but I get to give those back!). I don’t even have books. Everything else was packed away when we moved to China. The problem is, I want more.

Curtains, for instance. Curtains so dark they don’t have to have scarves hung over them to keep out the light. The scarves work fine, so I don’t need to complain, but it would be nice to simply pull the curtains shut at night and not have to worry about blocking out every last bit of light.

Or pictures and decorating stuff for the walls. If I were a true minimalist, I’m sure I’d sleep in a cabin on someone else’s property (I’m looking at you, Henry David Thoreau!) and have nothing but the clothes on my back and maybe a fire to cook a fish on. But me being me, I want where I live to look nice. Nice does not include completely bare white walls. It doesn’t have to be fancy—but some sort of color would help!

But at the same time I’m thinking how nice it would be to have more stuff, it also seems ridiculous to spend large amounts of money on things I’ll only be using for less than a year. Apparently there’s more than a touch of Great-Grandpa Manthei in me. And when things are priced in yuan, those numbers are just so huge. I can’t bring myself to spend 200 Y on something unnecessary, even though it’s really only around $33.

I’m thankful for what I do have, like our pretty plants that decorate and purify the air (they were cheap too). But it’s easy to get caught up in wanting, even coveting, other good things to have. I’ve been spending too much time lately wanting what other people have: things like a place to stay for more than a year and money that doesn’t have to go to fill the pockets of university staff (seriously, why do degrees and everything cost so much?). Complaining comes easily: thankfulness does not. And I’ve been given so much—there’s no reason for me to not be grateful.

I don’t want complaining to become my default option—discontentment can so easily turn to bitterness and bargaining with God. I don’t want stuff to define me, either by what I have or what I lack.

Life isn’t made up of stuff, but sometimes it’s awfully nice to have. And we’ve been spoiled by having so much within easy reach. I may feel like a discontented failure some of the time—but when I think about it, there’s really nobody I’d trade places with.