Piano Man

Dear Marcus,

I remember the precise moment I knew of you.

It was the same week the world stood still.

We were in a stupor after those two planes sliced through the World Trade Center. I had precisely four days of homeschooling under my belt, your brothers only 5 and 3 years old at the time. It was excruciating to process what had happened, to glimpse the footage. I cut ties with our television, those scenes too weighty to absorb.

It seems both indecent and comforting that during seasons of tragedy, we must still eat and drink and sleep and spin the dial on the washing machine. 

Life is for the living, I once heard someone say. 

And this is true. We must keep going.


A few days after that crushing Tuesday, I tiptoed from the safety of home in order to restock our refrigerator. It was intolerably humid that day, the heat smothering as I stepped from the car. I felt dizzy. Chalking it up to the terrorist attacks paired with the scorching weather, I steadied myself, leaning on a shopping cart that had been abandoned in the parking lot.

As I walked into Publix, an older gentleman passed by, carrying a styrofoam cup, steaming with coffee. I reeled. The smell of joe, normally the pinnacle of aromatic bliss, had become the scent of poison. 

This unexpected reaction had happened exactly twice before.  

And in an instant, Marcus, I knew there was you.

I hopped to it, tossing a few groceries in my cart, fairly flying to the checkout line, stacking my items on the conveyor belt. The cashier, in quiet tones, was speaking to the shopper in front of me.

Life’s beautiful music has up and died. She hesitated. Those planes—

Her smoky eyes filled as her lips trembled. 

Everything hushed.

And then my soft abdomen swirled, and I felt that maternal knowing– a flicker of hidden joy. 

Tragedy in one hand. Life in the other. 

New music had begun to play.


You have had quite a year: freshly married, a recent move, a new job, and now, come Saturday, college graduation on this, your 21st birthday.

You have also been generously gifted a Baby Grand piano.

Marcus….just think of it! 

A Baby Grand.


The May following the attack on our nation, you arrived. Handsome, serious, strong. Our third son. As your brothers peeked into your bassinet, I felt highly favored. My heart swelled with gratitude for God’s kindness in entrusting us with three boys. 

Marcus David.

Your Dad and I took name-choosing to heart, leaning hard toward the strong, the timeless, the ancient. Naming the four of you felt sacred; our first gift to each one of our children.

The nurse swaddled you tightly in that white blanket, edges bordered in lines of pink and blue, with a soft hat to keep you warm. She smiled, whispering Good job, Mama, as she gently placed you in the crook of my arm. He is beautiful, she said. 

I watched you sleep, tiny eyebrows furrowed.

There you are, I thought. My heart exploded with invisible fireworks, such surety of love for you, our precious baby. 

In those early weeks the two of us rocked by day and again by night, your sleepy song humming against my shoulder as I kissed the top of your head. My hand circled your back, round and round and round. Clockwise then counterclockwise. I sang the practiced lullabies, making up a few on the spot, so sleep deprived. I recited poems by heart, and whispered Psalm 23 again and again. I told you many secret stories, speaking little truths long before you could understand. The nights were long.

Decades later, and with jeweler’s eye, I have inspected all of those small crevices…events and stories tumbled together, the forging of a life, years built one atop another, brick-by-brick. It takes my breath away, the speed in which it all whizzed by.

I am nodding at Whitman’s perfect words:

We were together. I forget the rest.


Music was one of your earliest words as you toddled about, well before your first birthday. I remember now: the way you danced barefoot, denim overalls minus shirt, baby knees bending as you clapped your hands, as little ones do.

You whistled by the time you turned three, happy of heart, glowing with song.

And the years spun and suddenly you were six. Your Dad and I didn’t have much in the way of extras, but we saw glimmers of your giftings and stood determined to give you piano lessons.

One Saturday morning we discovered a $15 keyboard at a garage sale, and I handed over three fives and immediately signed you up for lessons. Day One came and I grinned as your first-grade legs dangled from the bench. Your teacher invited me to stay, and I sat still behind you, hiding behind a book. I read not a sentence but listened and observed. Your glasses scooted down the bridge of your little nose, and you pushed them up again as you learned your first scale.

Music proved effortless for you—my quietest child. It was your native tongue, brought to life in vivid colors. God had clearly woven this knowledge into the fibers of your being. 

After a few months, when your teacher touched my arm at the end of lesson, her eyes steady and kind and wide, she spoke what I already knew:

You must never let him quit. Make him practice. He has been entrusted with an unusual gift. I have taught many students, and I’ve never seen anything like this.

She need not have worried.

Piano was your oxygen, your life.


Your first official piano was gifted to us from an aging church member. God’s answer to my prayers, as you had long outgrown the garage sale keyboard.

We pushed and shoved the behemoth into the living room, then paid to have it tuned.

It is really, really old, the tuner-man said, wiping his sweaty forehead with a tired rag from his back pocket. I’ll do what I can.

He huffed and puffed and I thought the ancient contraption might fall apart like a house of sticks. But it held.

Later on, as I stood washing dishes while you played, I heard you whisper to your brother that it was still out of tune. 

But don’t tell Mom and Dad. They will feel bad.

You were what? Nine or ten years old at the time? My heart broke just a little. First of all because it was out of tune, and secondly because you knew we were not in a position to do more.

As I washed dishes, warm and sudsy, I begged God to make a way for you to have the finest piano, and soon. Please. This is important.

Tuned or not, you gave us a fine concert that evening, and we laughed and clapped, just the six of us together in our living room. Your dad and I glanced at each other—smiling, happy, and freshly stunned by your gifting. 

A little classical, a little praise, a little wild. You played it all.

Your hands leapt and danced over the keys that night and for many more to come. The prehistoric contraption was urged to life under your clever skill. 

Someone suggested that we take up a game.

Let’s hum a tune and see if Marcus can play it back to us on the piano.

You grinned and implored the keys to mimic whatever we warbled. We even sprinkled in songs you had never heard, in an attempt to keep it challenging. This game? It was child’s play for you, but you never let on. You remained humble, tilting back your head and laughing. 

My best memories of our time in that home are their own Twin Towers: your brothers’ Friday night football games, and your piano playing.

Such merriment, such remembrances. 


I think our family was prone to forgetting the depth of your talent. We grew accustomed to your dazzling piano playing on the daily, forgetting the fact that it was a rare and precious jewel. 

That is until those yearly recitals rolled around, lessons in patience as we waded through oceans of students—some clunking along, poking keys, many mediocre at best, and others playing to perfection, fastidiously obeying the notes, the rests, the everything. 

Such prescriptive measures lacked heart and soul. And then, when you walked on stage, so quiet, so tall, and began your piece, the audience sat up, stunned.

You, dear Marcus, never play to perfection, dutifully obeying the sheet music. 

You become the music as your hands touch the keys, your shoulders dip and sway as your foot pumps the pedals. You disappear and the music soars, as women reach for tissues and gentlemen shake their heads in disbelief. It is as though you are playing a different instrument altogether. It is exceptional.

I closed my eyes when you played those recitals, absorbing the music, delighting in the story of you.


By age fourteen you had mowed enough lawns to purchase a high-end keyboard. I remember your excitement at this upgrade, and how you practiced and played and practiced and competed and received heavy, golden trophies. 

But the music, the pleasures of playing, the joy of reviving the sheet music, these elements remained your genuine reward. This was as beautiful as the music itself, which trembled holy. This gifting remains both a crescendo and a forte.

The piano, wordless, forms sentences, as it lifts and praises, rushes and slows, and haunts with tender emotion. Only at your bidding.


And then life grew thorny in copious ways, and I feared the music would die. 

It did not.

God is always working and always kind and always good, even when it seems he is not. Remember, Marcus, that hot trials, given time, serve to make Christ-followers stronger. I was forgetful of this truth for a time, but God nudged me, reminding me that we are kept, indelibly marked by our Heavenly Father. (Isaiah 49:16, Isaiah 43:2)

The beauty that came from life’s ashes was your new sheet music. You read it and played it and pressed into Truth. Music became your comfort, your offering before the Lord as your Bible remained opened, highlighted, freshly marked, ever-present on the table by your keyboard.

Suffering torched your heart and enhanced your music. I paid attention as I tamed the clean laundry heaped across your father’s and my bed. I thought and paused and prayed and folded while you practiced piano on the other side of our home. 


You hold an unmistakable authority over those keys, urging them to obey your will, as you submit to the notes with a princely sort of command. The strength of willing submission is life-giving, and I hear the depths of its echo.

And this, Marcus, is what I know to be true. You soar as you play–heightening the music by honoring the piece, raising it to life in a way that supersedes the composer’s best intentions. It is far grander than it was imagined to be.

Your piano playing is a magical carpet ride for all within earshot. Ask me how I know.

Some call you still waters, and maybe that is true. If so, the life beneath those calmed ponds are rivers moving… fathomless depths loaded with untold treasures. 


Mozart once said: The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.

Timing, tempo, touch, and silence, swirled together, are a masterpiece under your fingers.

In those deep waters of life, when I am tempted to think that life’s music has died, I repeat the book of James. Do you remember memorizing it as a child?

James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

You and your brothers and sister are the greatest earthly gifts from above, but God is our highest treasure.

Your musical talent is his perfect gift to you, regardless if you are playing the garage sale keyboard, the ancient piano, the expensive keyboard, or your new Baby Grand. You love it because he made you to be a musician. Revel in it, remaining swept up in the joy of God’s blessings.

Play for the glory of God alone, remembering with confidence that he loves you, and he designed you and chose you before the foundations of the world.

Stand amazed; always reverent.

And keep on playing.


At the sink that day, when the piano remained untuned, I begged God to give you the best piano ever.

And our Father of Lights has chosen to say Yes, many years later, just shy of your 21st.

So play us a song, you’re the Piano Man!

Happy Birthday and Happy Graduation, dear son of mine.

With so much love,


10 thoughts on “Piano Man

  1. What a beautiful love letter to a cherished son! Happy Birthday to you as well mom since those sweet days are an accomplishment for us as well. Isn’t it amazing how God lets us cherish these memories and even feel those little baby flutters in remembrance of times gone by? This serves as a great reminder, as a young mother, to savor every moment in these early years as they become the bigger memories later in life. Blessed are we who can serve our families.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok, crying! 😭🥰 You write so beautifully- it always touches my heart. Thank you for sharing your gift in this area with all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

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