The old classical guitar positioned in the corner of the room wasn’t particularly alluring or noteworthy. It was concealed within a cheap, tan coloured case gathering dust. But it beckoned me.
My older sister had long since left for college, having had some beginners’ classes, but she’d decided not to pursue the instrument any further. I knew she wouldn’t mind if I claimed the second-hand guitar as my own. Excitedly I opened the case and placed the strap across my shoulder. It felt a little cumbersome, yet simultaneously magical; the varnished wood and nylon strings seemed well crafted and aesthetically pleasing. I plucked the strings to discover it was greatly out of tune. I would need to get my friend to tune it; perhaps she could show me a thing or two.
I was in the middle of my ‘A’ levels when I decided to learn the guitar and figured that if I practised during my times of relaxation, instead of watching Australian soaps, that it might just be time well spent. I was right.
Within a year and a half I was writing my own songs, leading worship at small groups and C.U at university and playing with other musicians. By that time I’d acquired my own Yamaha acoustic guitar and a set of music books. When I met my future husband at university, one of the things that helped draw us together was our common interest in music and guitar. Within months we were asked to sing and play at a friend’s wedding.
A year or so after that I was playing alongside German friends during my year abroad. The song I composed there in my room, inspired by a photograph on my pin board, and sent to my fiancé on a TDK cassette tape (remember those days?) was sung by me and my husband on our wedding day. ‘First Love’ wowed the congregation, as the song had not been scheduled into the order of service. (I had been worried that I might be too nervous and back out on the day).
Fast forward a couple more years and I found myself on a full time performing arts course. Once more my guitar playing and song-writing skills came in handy. At a performance we put on at the Midlands Arts Centre I performed a couple of specially written songs, put together for the theme of the event and played alongside dramatic interpretation.
When we lived in the States for a few years, I formed a small band to perform as a support act at a coffee house concert in New Jersey. We also experimented with song recording in a friend’s basement recording studio.
More recently I’ve joined one of the worship teams at my local church and have enjoyed learning to play in different styles and with a variety of musicians. When I went to visit my dying dad who could barely speak or move in his final days early last year, I wanted to express my love for him through quietly playing guitar and singing a psalm. Tears are starting to fall as I write this, as memories are evoked and I can hear the song in my head. Music can be powerful.
Learning the guitar and stepping out to play in a variety of contexts, despite my feelings of inadequacy and lack of formal training, has been significant, meaningful and central to me for more than half my life. I cannot imagine my life without guitar being one of its main features.
And yet this story is ultimately not about me. I love this quote from Jeff Goins’ book ‘Wrecked’, where he boldly states ‘Your life is not about you.’ It sounds crazy, so contrary to what we’re accustomed to hearing in popular culture. But I’ve found it resonates with me and my life.
Why did I even pick up the guitar for the very first time? Was it simply curiosity or a simple whim one day? Was it completely my own idea?
No, far from it! I was influenced by a friend I’d met at church. She was a new Christian who’d been having guitar lessons, and one day when we were hanging out with a bunch of young people she brought out her guitar. We didn’t even know her that well at this stage but she put aside any fears of embarrassment and played a song she’d written the night before. I can still remember the song and the lyrics, which detailed her personal spiritual journey. We were all amazed at her confidence and encouraged her to write more.
This one friend, Sharon, who poured out her heart gently in a song, inspired me to do the same. I became convinced that I should and could learn, too. Since learning to play the guitar I have been likewise inspired to share my story and to speak to others through songs. I’ve written several songs for other people that simply came about as a response to their situation. It wasn’t just about me. The guitar has been a vehicle of blessing to both myself, my family and other people. I’ve also encouraged others to write songs and try new things.
What astounds me about this realisation is that I’m not even all that great on the instrument. Yes I can play and hold a tune but I’m not particularly skilled, and I still have never had even one formal guitar lesson! Others are far more gifted than I, yet God has emboldened and equipped me to use the skills I have to bless and affect others.
In the same way that Sharon inspired me that one evening in 1990, I’ve experienced how actions or pursuits are not completely random. Something you say, create, do or start can kick start a chain of events or something significant in others’ lives. Sharon didn’t worry about what our reactions might be to her song, she just played. My story is forever linked to hers.
One person was the inspiration for a crucial feature of my life. You, too, can be that person in another setting, in a different context. As you engage with others and use your gifts for good, you can be the inspiration for someone else. May I encourage you to not hold back or let fear stop you from using or sharing your skills, imperfect as they might be. You will never know the true extent of your influence or how your actions affected the course of another’s life. Through simply exercising your gifts, you can be the inspiration.