Showing Love with a Smile

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, February 25, 2014

smiley ball

Showing Love with a Smile

I was intentionally kind to a few people today! Including two workers at the YMCA this morning, several acquaintances, and two strangers. However, those incidences of being kind are not sticking in my mind as much as a situation two days ago. I already wrote about something that happened at the end of the morning, when I played the piano for two services at two different retirement homes. But the situation I’ll feature in today’s post? Just will not get out of my head. So, I’ll talk about it in this space.

At the first retirement center, I arrived some minutes early for the service. In plenty of time to play several familiar hymns for a prelude.  After checking with Chaplain Sarah, the preacher and service leader for the morning, I went to the piano to put down my music and prepare the hymnals. One of the dear seniors—with a walker—slowly entered the chapel. As she shuffled in, I could see one of the center’s employees gently directing the senior to the one of the empty, waiting chairs. The employee gave her some friendly encouragement, trying to cut through the veil of encroaching dementia.

While standing by the piano, I watched, fascinated. The dear senior paused by the second row of chairs from the front, as if considering sitting down. No, she didn’t sit. Instead, she continued, up towards the piano. I was drawn forward to her, almost as if by a magnet. “Hello!” I said, with a big smile. “It’s good to see you this morning.” I reached forward, stroking her arm in a gentle way. I lessened my smile a little, but still kept it on my face.

This dear senior raised her head and looked up at me—something I hadn’t seen her do for some time. (I know her a little, since I come to this center about once a month.) Her eyes met mine. She gestured toward the piano with one elbow, keeping both hands on her walker. “I play,” she said. Her glance fell on the piano, a lovely, older baby grand, a warm medium brown. Glowing in the daylight coming in from outside. “Really?” I responded. “So do I. I’m going to play for you, if you sit down. Here—“ I gently turned her around, rubbing her shoulder in an encouraging way. I led her back to the second row of chairs. She went along, quite willingly. Several other staff members and residents watched as I oriented her to her seat.  Then, I returned to the piano. Started to play. The service for the morning started.

I did a workmanlike job on the service music Sunday morning. I truly enjoy playing for the seniors. But there was something about the interaction in front of the piano that especially touched my heart. It seemed that everyone watched what happened, like the two of us were on stage. I cannot even describe what it was about it that was so moving. But—whatever it was—God was in it. I felt the presence of God in a special way. I don’t know what anyone else’s opinion or reaction to this interaction was, but I know mine. Touching in a deep, meaningful way. Thanks, God. I wonder what You will send my way tomorrow?


Of Piano Playing and Being Kind

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, January 5, 2014

piano lady

Of Piano Playing and Being Kind

I received a call last night. A pianist was unable to show up for two worship services this morning. I was asked whether I would be able to substitute at the last minute. Of course! I said. I’ve been at both of these retirement homes in Chicago a number of times, just not under these last-minute-circumstances.

Sometimes I preach and lead worship, more recently I’ve also played the piano, and a few times I’ve played both roles. So when I walked into the chapel at the first home, I knew all of the dear seniors present. I spoke to a few on my way to the piano. Because of snow and ice on the roads (as well as on my car), I came just two or three minutes before the service was to start. I played through two hymns as a prelude. After the service, I played a number of hymns as a postlude. Familiar hymns. Since I’ve been preaching, leading worship and playing for services at retirement homes over the past number of years, I know which hymns are more likely to elicit sighs and nods of recognition, and even seniors singing the words along with my playing. Thus it was with my postlude. One dear senior (mid-eighties? late eighties?) still has a very nice-sounding voice, and a marvelous memory for the words of many, many hymns.  As I played, I smiled as I listened to one, two, then three seniors singing the words of the hymns.

After almost ten minutes of playing the postlude, I rose from the piano bench to get ready to leave. I noticed that fully half of the seniors gathered there for the service had remained. They were listening to me, playing the piano. I stopped for a moment, realizing why they were still there. It was then that I heard the thanks. Sincere thank yous and gratitude coming from several of these dear seniors.

I quickly slogged several miles through the snow to the second retirement home, where this worship service was repeated. Again, the piano playing. The hymn singing was not quite as strong, but equally heartfelt. And after the worship, I again played a number of hymns for the postlude.

I wonder if this piano playing was the most important thing I’ve done all week, in God’s eyes? And afterwards, to have several of these dear seniors say ‘thank you’ with such sincerity and gratitude? I know many in this youth-oriented (even youth-worshipping) culture do not put much stock in their seniors. Many thoughtless or uncaring people today consider them to be not-as-important. Even forgettable.  The descriptive word to reference them is no longer ‘elders’ but ‘seniors.’ This telling change in vocabulary begins to show the shift in thinking.

Thank God that I was available and able to play the piano at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had this revelation. What a way for me to be kind and tenderhearted, as Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus. Please, God, show me how to be kind and tenderhearted tomorrow, too.