“Will you play cello in the small orchestra I’m assembling?” the music director asked. It was 1987, in Lisbon, where we were immersed in language learning for two years in preparation for work in Lusophone Africa. I had left my cello behind at the urging of a well-known ethnomusicologist who warned me that if the “indigenous people are exposed to western tone structure and instruments they will lose their own music”. The inference was that I would be committing an unpardonable anthropological crime if I took my cello to Africa. But I received the exhortation as godly wisdom and relinquished my hobby for the higher calling on my life: to take the word of God to a people who did not yet have it. I believed that my God would provide anything he knew I had to have to thrive in our new place. And so, I gave my regrets to the director – who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
“…but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him; in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 147:11
“I think I have a cello for you!” responded this persistent one. Sure enough, stashed away in someone’s attic languished a cello. It had been purchased years earlier at the flea market but the owner left it when she returned to her home country. It was in poor condition from lack of care and full of wood-worm holes. My heart sank as I considered the fortune required to have it repaired. The owner, knowing this, sent me the message that if I could bear the cost of repair, it was mine. I didn’t have to pray about it. This was no coincidence. God knew more about my future location than the ethnomusicologist and I received his gift with two hands (the African way of receiving with a full and thankful heart). I felt the pleasure my heavenly Father took in returning music to me. What’s more, the cost of repair turned out to be minimal, due to the exchange rate at the time. My precious Lord brought to new life what I had put to death for his sake. He gave back the part of me that gave him pleasure. I became a cellist once again. And this cello made it to Africa.
I did not commit the unpardonable, anthropological crime. Coca-cola and pop music idols from the west had already beaten us to our destination. Our “oldies” were their “newsies” and how they loved them. Rock music blared from every bar (and there are many of those). Would my little ‘ole cello, being played in the house for my family’s benefit, corrupt the homes and neighborhoods where I lived? I thought not. Definitely not.
By 2010, this instrument had done a good bit of traveling. Finally, it returned to the U.S. with me. But it had literally come unglued during the flight. The extreme climates I’d exposed it to and that final journey had done a number. I had it repaired by a master and it’s probably a better specimen than it’s ever been. “Farmboy” (affectionately named in honor of its supposed origins – but that’s another story) is fragile, though. So, when my husband and I took this recent assignment in Namibia, I left it home. With the confidence of a “seasoned missionary”, well accustomed to necessary sacrifices, I didn’t think twice about living for two years without a cello. For a “seasoned missionary” with open-ended assignments lasting a decade or more under my belt, a two-year assignment is “nothing”. I actually convinced myself, and glibly declared to my friends, “I can do anything for two years! Why, that’s a drop in the bucket of life!” Not. Almost immediately the short-term assignment took on a plodding, endless character. Clearly, the God who gave his life to save me from such pride had more to teach me regarding being “seasoned” – mainly that it’s less about my history and more about him.
My perceptive husband was noticing that I just wasn’t “the gal I used to be”. After all, I had been attached to a cello when he met me. I was “M—E—who-played-the-cello”. Turns out, “cellist” is a part of me that also delights him, even as it delights my Lord. So my man was determined to find a cello for me here. It is true that in my uncertain moments before we left for Namibia I researched “travel cello” online. I actually found one, but didn’t pursue it. My husband, possibly fearing I would go the way of Farmboy and become unglued, directed me to put in an order for the “practice cello designed for air travel”, called Prakticello. This was risky. No cellist of my acquaintance had ever heard of this “instrument”. I had never seen it nor played it in person. Hubby was blessedly insistent, though, so we took the plunge and ordered. We found a traveler willing to hand carry it to the capitol. We drove a day (each way) to retrieve it. And now, I am a cellist — again. And once again, my heart leaps at the joy my heavenly Father has over me. As if his joy over saving and redeeming me from sin’s powerful grip, and forgiving me of my pride isn’t enough, he gives me a cello too! — again! I am not really a seasoned anything. But I am seasoned by God’s presence; daily sprinkled with his loving kindness, spiced up by his generosity and perfect gifts; growing older in the certainty that it delights him to season me so.
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17