By Tamara Miles
“I’m going to disappoint you. But you knew that already,” I thought, that day at the church. From across the large sanctuary, Brother Bob had seen me enter the room with my clarinet case, and although what happened next was really between him and God, I was a witness to it. It was a quick, private series of involuntary responses. First, he looked pleasantly surprised; next, he looked heavenward, as if to say “Thank you,” and then he raised his hand in a victory fist.
Brother Bob had prayed I would join the church orchestra for at least six months. He knew I played all throughout my school years from fifth grade on. He knew that I played well, and that I enjoyed being part of an orchestra. However, I had resisted joining because, frankly, I had a problem with commitment.
To be a member of the WBC orchestra meant committing to Wednesday night practice and showing up for church on Sunday, early, so I could warm up with the group and get last minute instructions before we filled the morning worship service with spiritual background music meant not only to inspire the congregants but to praise God and therefore to please Him and make Him happy.
For a number of reasons, I found it hard to make or keep that commitment: I was working too much, and I was taking college classes, and I was tired much of the time. If I didn’t miss orchestra practice because I had to work, I would miss it because I needed to do homework or study or sleep…or go out and have a drink or two.
The bottom line is that my desire to play clarinet with this group wasn’t at the level Brother Bob wished it might be…a symptom of further disappointments…namely, that my heart wasn’t in line with other plans the good Lord might have for me either. I remembered a Bible verse related to all this—something about a man who was given talents and did not make responsible use of them. Guilt and fear are sometimes effective tools for getting me to do something, but the only thing that really works in the long run is love, and Brother Bob was acting out of love. It was a love that patiently waited for my heart to turn.
Once, when I was at his house for a church-related celebration of one kind or another, I saw on Brother Bob’s refrigerator, among the happy family photographs, a note from him to his wife and children. It said simply, “I’m committed to you for life.” I was moved by it, by the idea of having a father who is committed to you for life, unlike my father who was committed only to one thing, himself.
I sometimes attribute my own Red Delicious or Pink Lady characteristics to my father’s example, given the cliché about the apple and the tree. This memory came back to me as I made my way down the aisle with my clarinet, wondering if I had a single reed in the case that was not cracked, whether I could make Wednesday night practice, and thinking I was born with a worm inside and poor Brother Bob had been saving his pennies for defective fruit. “Well,” I thought, “I can shine myself up for this occasion, at least, and unlike my father, I can play a musical instrument.”
It was a long way down the aisle. It always is, at church, but I wasn’t headed for the altar, just the orchestra seats. I wondered if we would play “Just as I Am”—I wouldn’t know, since I had missed the previous practice. I slid into a seat and took a quick look at the music on the stand. “I’ll Fly Away” was first on the agenda. I laughed quietly. Wouldn’t you know it? A tune just made for me. I picked up my clarinet, licked the reed and fastened the mouthpiece on: tight enough but not too tight, that is the rule—and started warming up. Brother Bob was just going to have to forgive me in advance.