I’m in the process of writing my Spiritual Memoir. It’s not simply a record of my life. It’s a story of what God has done with my life. It’s a story of how God had hopes and plans for me, even when I didn’t know or care that God was in any involved with my life. It’s a story of how God pursued me until those hopes and plans for me also became my hopes and plans. It’s a story about how, once I understood and accepted those hopes and plans, they began to be fulfilled through the grace of God even though at the time I didn’t realize that.
I view Psalm 139, verses 1-18 as a basic text for the principle that God creates each person with a plan, purpose, and hopes for him or her, and is always present in that person’s life, even though they don’t realize it. All during one’s life God is guiding, but not forcing, that person toward recognition of and then fulfillment of those hopes. Here’s an example concerning just one aspect of my life that I believe illustrates this principle.
As I reflected upon (researched?) my life I realized that there was nothing in the first eight years or so in my life to suggest that God wanted me to become a musician. As far as I can remember, my parents weren’t into popular music. They didn’t play the popular music stations on the radio. We didn’t have a TV. It was still a novelty for most Americans. We did have an old wind-up Victrola (record player) in our home, but no popular music records to play. However, by the time I was eight years old I became interested in cowboys. I listened to the Gene Autry show on the radio every Saturday night. My parents got me a 78 record of Gene Autry singing cowboy songs. I played it over and over again on the wind-up Victrola. Then I discovered radio station WAAT, a forerunner of today’s Public Radio System. They payed all kinds of what we today call Country & Western music. I decided I wanted to be a cowboy when I gew up. And cowboys sang and played guitars. But I didn’t have a guitar. However, it turned out that my grandfather had an old guitar stored away in a closet somewhere. He gave it to me. I didn’t know that he played guitar. I still have no evidence that he did. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that now I had a guitar. A first step toward becoming a cowboy. The next step was to learn to play the guitar.
I believe God used my mother as an important channel through which His hopes and plans for me were gradually fulfilled. My mother arranged for me to take weekly guitar lessons from a man a few blocks away. He was an excellent classical musician. He taught me how to read and play music. The problem was that the music he gave me to play was not cowboy music. I remember having to play songs called “Polly Wolly Doodle” and the “Bobby Shafto March“. I played them very well, but they weren’t cowboy songs. That lasted about two years. I had no plans or hopes for ever again bothering with music lessons. But now I realize that God did have such plans and hopes. God didn’t give up on me.
A few years after I gave up on the guitar, somebody gave us a violin. Apparently with the stipulation that I learn to play the instrument. I wasn’t interested in doing that again, but my mother had other ideas. It happened that a music store had recently opened right around the corner from us – and they gave private music lessons – including violin lessons. I still wanted to play cowboy music, but again they weren’t teaching me that. I don’t know how long that lasted. A year at most. When I was done with the violin, I was sure that I was done with trying to play music. But again God still had hopes for me.
I was probably 11 years old when we got a TV in our home. One of the programs we always watched was the Arthur Godfrey show. He played a ukelele, which looked to me like a mini-guitar. I liked the sound of it. My father and I also watched the old western movies for hours. It seemed like every five minutes there was a commercial. One of the items being constantly advertised was a ukelele. In the commercial they explained that you could learn to play it in just a few minutes. I don’t remember if they actually said it, but I believe the intention was for you to believe that you could quickly learn to play just like Arthur Godfrey. You didn’t have to take lessons. Just follow the easy color coded instuction booklet that came with the ukelele. Now that looked like a lot of fun. Easy to play. No lessons. I could use it to play cowboy music.
It was very inexpensive, so my mother let me order it. When it arrived I immediately took it out of the box and began my first lesson from the instuction book. But I quickly discovered there was a problem. The ukelele was a piece of junk. It had these plastic strings that wouldn’t stay in tune. I had to adjust them every few minutes. So I was sure that this was really the end of any hopes I had for playing music. But I still didn’t realize that God still had these hopes for me and music, and wasn’t going to give up on me.
At the age of 13 I entered high school. By this time I was no longer interested in cowboy music, or any other kind of music, for that matter. Certainly I had no interest in playing a musical instrument of any kind. But again, I still was not aware that God had hopes for me that included making music. And again, God used my mother to move me in that direction. She insisted that I take the instumental music class in high school. I could learn to play any instrument that the school would be teaching. Anything, that is, but drums. Realizing there was no way out of this, I examined all the instruments they were teaching and finally chose the clarinet. Why that instument? It was the smallest and lightest of them all. It could quickly and easily be broken down into five pieces that fit into a small case. I would have to carry it back ad forth from shool at least two or three days a week. There were no school buses. So it meant a walk of almost a mile every day. It would be easy to carry the clarinet in this little case.
We rented a clarinet from the company that supplied the school system with musical instuments. Much to my surprise, from the moment I started to try playing the clarinet, I was hooked on it. I couldn’t wait to start music lessons and continued to look forward to them. I was soon playing in the marching band at the football games and parades. I was in the concert band when we played Rhapsody in Blue. I was learning more about reading music. I was learning about, listening to, and playing different kinds of music – popular music (Rock & Roll was just getting started), classical music, big band music, jazz of all kinds. I was done with cowboy music, But now there was so much more. God’s hopes for me and music were finally beginning to be fulfilled in a big way, but as yet I didn’t realize that God was in any way involved in this.
About a year into high school I decided that I wanted to enter the US Navy when I graduated. I didn’t see how this decision was related to music, but I soon found out. Somehow I learned that it was possible to be a musician in the Navy. If I could pass a pre-enlistment audition at the US Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. when I graduated from high school, I could then enlist as a Navy Musician. I still wasn’t aware of this being part of God’s hopes for me, but I was beginning to get the idea that God was somehow involved. I remember praying over and over again that God would let me pass that audition. I was in effect asking God to support my hopes of becoming a Navy musician. Now, 55 uears later, I realize that it was the other way around. My hopes concerning music had become aligned with God’s hopes for me.
During my remaining high school years I bought my own clarinet , bought and learned to play the saxophone, took weekly private lessons, practiced faithfully every day, and along with some friends, formed a band called The Continentals. Soon after I graduated from high school I passed the Navy music audition, enlisted, went to boot camp, attended and learned even more at the US Navy School of Music. I then served in the band on the USS Forrestal and then the USS Saratoga during cruises arround the Mediterranean Sea, stopping at what were for me, exotic places like Naples, Cannes, Athens, and Istanbul. I was part of the band which played for President Eisenhower, played on a radio station in Barcelona, Spain, in a parade in Istanbul, Turkey, particpated in a festival on the Island of Majorca, Spain, and played for other more routine events and activities. Something else happened while I was attending the US Navy School of Music. I met Joan Benson, who would two years later become my wife.
When my Navy enlistment was up, I decided not to reenlist, since I would have to spend too much time away from Joan. But since then I have continued to play on certain occasions, including praise bands in church. I also belong to the Navy Musicians Association, and every two years attend a reunion, where once again I am privileged to play in the bands that are formed for the events. However, music was only one of the hopes and plans God had for my life. There was a lot more – college, employment in the export shipping business, public relations, seminary and service as a pastor. Most recently, as my friend and partner in ministry, Patty Perez, tells me, it looks like God has hopes and plans for me as a writer. I agree with her and so now I believe I am in tune with God’s current hopes and plans for me. And I can see them being fulfilled even now as I write this blog.
Based on what I understand God is saying in Psalm 139, and in my reflections on my life so far, here’s what I firmly believe is true for all of us:
Whatever stage of life we are in, God has hopes and plans for us, that He established before we were born.
God will always be with us, providing us with all the grace we need to cooperate with Him in fulfilling those hopes and plans
God will never give up on us. Regardless of what we do or don’t do, wherever we go, whatever the time of day or time of life, God will be working toward fulfilling our hopes, provided that they are in tune with God’s hopes fo us and that we do our part in achieving them.
Grace and peace, Ray
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.
May God be with you,
Patty and Ray