Tag Archives: choices

On Reg the percussionist and making choices right

Reg Klopfenstein and Bethel College JazzI met Reg Klopfenstein in 1976. He stood behind me in band in college.

He was in band because he was a musician. He stood because he was a percussionist. He was behind me because I played tuba.

I was not a musician. I started playing tuba in 8th grade because I wanted to learn standup bass and the director talked me into tuba. I played all four years in high school because there was a shortage of tuba players. I played in college because I wanted to.  Fourth chair.

Reg, on the other hand, was a musician. He played every percussion instrument with precision and practice. Before band, while on tour, after band, he was practicing.  Reg practiced everything, including the triangle. He would shine on the tuned percussion instruments like marimba and chimes.

Reg was serious. I wasn’t.

After my sophomore year, I dropped out of band. I realized that if I wanted to stay, if I wanted to actually be part of the music of the band, I would need to start practicing. And I wasn’t ready to do that. I was a communication major. I wouldn’t make my living in music, I knew. I was more likely to do something with broadcasting, with production.

We didn’t stay in touch after we stopped seeing each other a few times a week. Turns out, he spent part of that time with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. His practicing made him a performer. A few years ago I started hearing about him again from his aunt. He was a professor at Bethel College, I discovered, teaching music. I remember thinking, “He’s doing what he always did. And what I quit.”

Reg Klopfenstein smilingA couple years ago, I came to Grabill Missionary. I discovered that his parents are here. I discovered that he grew up here. Long before I met him at Wheaton, Reg had been practicing and performing as a percussionist.

A couple weeks ago, Reg brought his college jazz band to play for a coffeehouse. I got to watch him lead, heard the band that he was leading. He looked a bit like Art Katterjohn, the director that we both had in college, a guy who cared about people and music.

And as I watched and thought, I realized that both Reg and I made the right choices back in college. Reg chose music. He chose to practice, to study, to play.

My choice has always felt more complicated. I have felt at times like I chose against music, that somehow I gave up something significant. I understand the significance of what I get to do, working with lives. But that sense of quitting has lingered. What I realized that night, however, is that I didn’t choose against music, I chose for the story. I have spent the years since we last met learning how to help people understand.

To feel bad about giving up what I wasn’t willing to work for is a waste of energy.To put that energy into what I chose makes all the sense in the world.

And what about you? Are you spending your time wondering if you made the right choice? Or are you spending your energy making the choice right?


nice or necessary

Today there was a funeral at our church.

In the last couple months we’ve had eight or nine funerals. We record CDs of these services, allowing the family to listen to words they may not be hearing clearly in the grief of the moment. Today, as happens sometimes, I was running the recorder while Lee was running sound.

One of the things I like to do while recording is have each element of the program on its own track. This makes finding a particular song or speaker or reading easy to find.

This morning, in addition to running the recorder, I also had to go pick up fried chicken for 100 people for a meal after the funeral. It’s something we do. Somehow, humans like to eat after the emotion of a weekend of saying goodbye.

I had to leave before the funeral would be over. Lee asked if I wanted him to keep starting new tracks for the last couple of parts of the program.

It was a great question. I could ask him to keep doing what was important for me. Or I could accept the fact that what I was doing was nice, but not necessary. Recording track is is something I like to do, it’s something that I think is nice and helpful. However, the family would be happy with a disk that has just one track.

The food arriving on time was more necessary than what I thought would be nice. And Lee didn’t need the pressure that I would be adding.

My choice of nice or necessary had the potential of raising Lee’s stress significantly.

It happens all the time. We choose to do something. That choice increases our stress signficantly. That stress changes our reactions to others. Others suffer for priorities in our head.


Somehow, I did it. Somehow, I’m invisible. Apparently I get to decide when I become visible again.

There are days I wish this were possible.

There are hours when it is.

There are moments and breaks and hours and chunks and segments and pauses during the day when I can be invisible.

And be quiet.

And think.

And pray.

And not do any of those.

Not for weeks. (impossible and undesirable)

Not for days. (Improbable)

For moments.

And instead, here I am.

Here I am in choice time, in in-between time, making myself visible, wishing I weren’t.

So I won’t be.

(Visible that is).


back to school

I was talking with a friend the other day about life. The question on the table, distilled down, was this: if you aren’t the boss, what are you in charge of?

It’s a question I understand well, given that I consistently find myself in what has been called, “the second chair.” I know everything that our cultures teach us about being leaders, about setting vision, about moving to the top, about being in charge. Even when those in charge talk about everyone being important to the team, there is an implicit bias toward the top.

And yet, I am in the second chair. And I enjoy it.

But I still struggle with the position and vision thing, knowing how to fit. So I told my friend, “Here’s what I know but don’t do often enough.” (Having said that, I knew that I was going to have to write and confess and change.)

Rather than focusing on job change and career paths and who’s in what chair, I need to focus on me.

1. What skills can’t I change? What am I not built to do, no matter what? Be honest. Quit trying to compare. (This takes accountability)

2. What skills am I coasting on? Where am I going for the easy A, the low-hanging fruit? If I can crank out blog posts without even thinking about it, maybe I could be pushing those skills a little harder? (This takes encouragement)

3. What skills can I develop? Has someone said to me, “I wish I could do that” and I’ve not believed that they could be serious? What do I know I could do with a little effort? (This takes mentoring)

I used the word skills. I include attitudes, patterns, habits, methods of cooking, ways of responding in conversation, flossing daily, amount of time feeling obligated to pray in a particular way, frequency of emailing family and friends, number of references to sock puppets in a given conversation, ability to put yourself down, number of times looking for traces of comments about yourself on the social media dashboards, willingness to move from yes/no answers toward answers that actually let someone know what is happening in your heart and head, willingness to be brief.

Nothing new here. You can fill in references to books talking about strengths and self-improvement and all that stuff.

But there is a new calendar page and a new season and the last quarter of the year. So what if we spent this month stopping struggling with one skill expectation we’re not built to do, doing something new with one thing we are great at, and intentionally developing, with the help of a mentor, one skill.

Want to go back to school with me?

8 ways to increase your mileage

1. Take your daughter with you and talk about life.

2. Turn off talk radio and have your own thoughts.

2.b. Invent something significant with those thoughts.

3. Drive to a place that matters.

4. Call your sister just to catch up. (And then be sure to call your other sister.)

5. Hold hands.

6. Decide not to get angry at every other driver on the road.

7. Leave 15 minutes earlier than you think you need to.

8. Let work stay at work.

(And you thought it would be about inflating tires, didn’t you? Value isn’t always measured in pennies.)

college visit

We spent yesterday on a college visit. Hope is a high school junior and is starting to think more seriously about how to answer the question, “So what are you going to do after you graduate?”

Until two weeks ago, she was pretty uninterested in the school we visited. She has known about it forever. She thought about it at one point. But whether through (negatively reacting to) peer pressure or proximity to home or  something, she had moved it off her list. Until two weeks ago.

She got a recruitment call from the school, a call that Nancy didn’t want to pass on, a call that Hope didn’t want to take. But she answered and listened. And found out that they have the major, newly added, that is of great interest to her.

And so we went yesterday, Nancy and Hope and I. We listened to admissions counselors. We  talked with faculty. We toured the campus. We talked to a couple people that I know on that campus. We ate supper at Chili’s and she read “The Great Gatsby” while we waited for our order. We stayed for our first Gilbert and Sullivan (“Pirates of Penzance”). We got home 19 hours after we left.

Because she has the right to change her mind (because she’s a person), I have intentionally not linked to that campus or told you the major.  But what is so intriguing to me is this:

She almost didn’t take the call because she thought she knew what the message would be.

That conversation may have changed her life, established a direction for her future. But that conversation, that piece of information, that thing that she didn’t know, almost didn’t get through.

I’m thinking that there are way too many times that we are absolutely convinced that we aren’t interested in what someone is talking about because we “know” what they will say. We “know” what going there would mean, how choosing that would ruin our lives, how that place would be no fun. We almost miss out on the very thing that will allow us to be transformed, to be completed…because we don’t want to take that call, to hear what that voice has to say.

I’ll keep you posted on the college thing. After all, we have 18 months. In the mean time, if the phone rings, you may want to at least listen.


Deep in the heart of New York City a few weeks ago, I discovered that several trains going different places run on the same set of tracks. There are lots of tracks, that is true. There are layers of trains. But you can walk to the same point on the platform, and look at the same set of tracks, and still have to make a choice about which train to ride, about where to go.

I talked with a person today who was struggling to choose whether or not to talk with someone who had (unintentionally) hurt them. There was a set of tracks of reaction and response. But there was a choice about how to handle the situation, whether to confront in love or confront in pain or overlook in love or overlook in bitterness.

A friend resigned from a position this week, presenting a boss with the opportunity of climbing on the train of betrayal (“You are abandoning us”) or of celebration (“What a great opportunity!”). Another friend is looking at a serious situation with a child and trying to decide whether to accept the child’s behavior as right or God’s behavior as right. Another friend stood at the platform next to the tracks of death and wrestled with whether to climb on the train of grief with stops at despair and depression, or the train of faith with stops at short-term pain and celebration.

Usually the trains are pretty clearly marked, but the destinations aren’t always clear. And in the moment, when the train pulls into the station, there isn’t much time to decide. So we have to spend some time picking the right platform, look at the map, deciding where we want to go. That way, when the crisis happens, we have pre-decided our response.

Or we could just pick random stations and random tracks and random trains. Somehow, however, that feels like a huge waste of energy. Especially when the difference between wildly different parts of Manhattan (or life) is the difference of 4 minutes and one step.